MERIDIAN, Idaho — A diverse group that is developing a plan to improve the health of the Boise River watershed told leaders of the region’s irrigation community that their proposal will not harm agriculture.
Three members of the Boise River Enhancement Network’s 12-member coordinating team explained the plan to the newly formed Treasure Valley Water Users Association Aug. 10.
TVWUA represents irrigation districts, canal companies and farmers in Southwestern Idaho.
Association members have concerns about the BREN plan, which suggests several changes to irrigation, farming and grazing practices.
“We’re not attacking irrigation,” said Derek Risso, principal for Ecosystem Sciences, a member of BREN’s coordinating team. “We understand that very few people would be here in the valley without irrigation.”
Risso said BREN members took data from all existing local, state, federal and private studies and reports on the Boise River watershed from the last 60 years and used the best available science to offer solutions to improve the health of the watershed.
Risso said the group has no jurisdictional power, the solutions are voluntary and BREN needs the farming community’s involvement to make the plan work.
“You guys are big players; we need you to make these kind of things work,” he said.
After the meeting, TVWUA Executive Director Roger Batt said he still has several concerns with the group’s draft plan. A final plan is due this fall.
“Whether we agree with (the plan) or not, we do appreciate being included in the discussion,” he said. However, he added, “There are some concerns and we’ll definitely continue to monitor it ... as things progress.”
Major BREN members include Land Trust of the Treasure Valley, Idaho Rivers United, Trout Unlimited, South Boise Water Co. and Ecosystem Sciences.
A draft summary of the plan suggests removing or improving diversion dams and other irrigation structures to allow for more natural river flow, fish passage and sediment transport.
The plan advocates revising grazing practices to protect wetlands and riparian areas, improving manure management at small feeding facilities and in grazing pastures, reducing “over-fertilization” and converting to sprinkler or drip irrigation “where applicable.”
TVWUA Chairman Clinton Pline said he’s concerned about the language suggesting the possible removal of some diversion dams.
“The oldest water rights in this valley are associated with diversion dams,” he said. “What are those water users going to do if diversions are removed?”
Mike Somerville, a farmer, is a BREN coordinating team member representing Canyon County Soil Conservation District’s board of directors.
Somerville said some language in the draft plan and summary regarding grazing and diversion dams needs to be changed or eliminated, but he’s confident the plan will not adversely affect agriculture.
The entire Canyon County Soil Conservation District board consists of farmers and irrigation users “and I guarantee you our board is going through that plan very carefully,” he said. “We do not want to be part of something that promotes more regulation or takes away the rights of irrigators and property owners.”