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Outpour of concern continues over state's diminishing water supply

POCATELLO, Idaho - Wednesday's heavy rains still will not be nearly enough to combat the state's tough drought conditions this year, which has been causing a rising problem with the diminishing water level in the Snake River aquifer.

This upcoming legislative session, two issues will be presented in front of the state legislature, both aimed at bringing the water levels in the Snake River aquifer back up to save Idaho's water supply.

Idaho Water Resource Board chairman Roger Chase said the first issue is stabilizing the aquifer by recharging it.

"The best way to do that is to take water in the spring when you have excess water and put it in the aquifer and recharge it that way," Chase said.

He mentioned the Lake Erie-sized aquifer loses between 300,000 and 600,000 acre feet each year. This is problematic since we only put in an average of 100,000 acre feet each year, which is well-below what is needed.

"Finding new sources of water is tough so putting excess flows from the springtime is the most viable solution," Chase said. 

He said every time water is put into the aquifer, it can stay there for 10 to 15 years - ideally.

"Realistically," Chase said, "it's actually between two to five years."

The second issue that will go before the state legislature is extending the moratorium across the entire aquifer. 

This means, people cannot break new land to tap into this water source unless legally allowed to do so.

"There is no more water, so if you open up new land, you're going to mine the aquifer more and take somebody else's water," Chase said.

These issues have prompted the state's Surface Water Coalition to file two petitions with the Idaho Department of Water Resources on August 15 which will better-monitor development in the non-trust water area of the Snake River and would re-establish management controls on ground water development in certain areas.

The coalition is made-up of seven irrigation organizations that help dole-out water to more than 630,000 acres of farmland.

Coalition spokesman and attorney representing a number of these irrigation organizations John Simpson said the hydraulic conditions of the aquifer has not improved over the years and continues to worsen.

He said these petitions are not aimed at halting development along the Snake River, but instead to review the hydraulic conditions to see if they are consistent with why the moratorium was put in place almost 20 years ago, and to see that if someone files a new application for water rights, that they need to provide mitigation as well.

Simpson noted the state and the Department of Water Resources both recognized that the effects of the drought and and upswing in development, there is now a situation of declining water supply that is almost dwarfed by the existing demand.

He also said the Coalition feels the moratorium would help give managers of water resources the right tools to help manage the water supply.

Both Simpson and Chase said nobody is in danger of having their water supply cut-off at the moment, however more efforts need to be taken to stabilize the aquifer so that situation will not arise in the future.

Click here to see a petition filed during 2010 hearing with the current irrigation organizations that make up the Coalition.

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