Idaho on pace to set aquifer recharge record during 2017-18 season

Storage water is recharged this fall into New Sweden Irrigation District's reservoir. Through the first part of December, the Idaho Department of Water Resources is on pace to recharge a record amount of water into the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer in Southern Idaho.

BOISE — The Idaho Water Resource Board recharged a record amount of water into the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer during the 2016-2017 recharge season and is on pace to break that record during the current season.

Wesley Hipke, who runs the board’s managed aquifer recharge program, said 317,000 acre-feet of water was recharged into the ESPA during the 2016-17 season, which ran from October to July.

By comparison, a total of 75,000 acre-feet of water was recharged into the ESPA during the 2014-15 season, which was the first time the board was able to conduct recharge throughout the winter. A total of 66,218 acre-feet of recharge occurred during the 2015-16 season.

The 2016-17 total, which doesn’t include incidental recharge, almost doubled the previous record of 166,338 acre-feet, which was set during the 2011-12 season.

As of Dec. 11, the state program had recharged 175,000 acre-feet of water into the ESPA during the 2017-18 season, which began Aug. 30. Last year at this point, 25,000 acre-feet of recharge had occurred.

“If we keep going at this rate, we have a good chance of beating last year’s record, depending on what Mother Nature does,” Hipke said.

The program is currently still recharging about 1,300 cubic feet per second into the ESPA, which covers 10,000 square miles in Southern Idaho and provides irrigation water for more than two million acres of farm land.

The recharge program seeks to reverse declining groundwater levels and spring flows.

The state’s managed aquifer recharge goal has been 250,000 acre-feet a year since 2009, when only 13,700 acre-feet of recharge was accomplished. The 2016-17 season was the first time that goal was achieved.

The heavy snowpack levels that fell throughout Idaho basins last winter provided the first real opportunity to see how much recharge the program could accomplish, said University of Idaho Extension Agent Terrell Sorensen.

“This was really the first year we had enough water to really ... see what we could do with recharge,” he said. “We had a record amount of recharge and it was because we had such a good water year.”

Hipke said the state has done a lot of work in recent years to build up its managed aquifer recharge program and create the infrastructure to support it.

He said the IWRB is still working on building its recharge infrastructure, especially to be able to conduct more recharge during the winter months.

“We’re really seeing that work and the infrastructure we built paying off in this high water year and we have more work to do,” he said.

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