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Water curtailment order lifted for farmers in East Idaho

Saving water on your lawn
Posted at 1:59 PM, Jun 20, 2024

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — Groundwater and surface water irrigators have finished a deal that's set to save 330,000 acres of Idaho's farmland from drying up, averting an economic catastrophe in the Gem State.

The 2024 mitigation agreement was brokered by Governor Little and Lt. Governor Bedke and accepted by the Idaho Department of Water Resources on June 20, just one week after IDWR Director Mathew Weaver ordered that his staff pause compliance field inspections in connection with the May 30 water curtailment order during negotiations.

RELATED | Water curtailment compliance paused as negotiations continue

“This is a huge relief to our members, who have had their livelihoods threatened over the past month,” said TJ Budge, attorney for Idaho Ground Water Appropriators. “We want to thank Governor Little, Lt. Governor Bedke, Senator Van Burtenshaw and, especially, all of our groundwater district members for their sincere and significant efforts to get a deal done before it was too late.”

Though the agreement allows farmers to grow their crops as planned during 2024, it does not address underlying issues with the state's management if the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.

Now, groundwater districts are putting their trust in the state to fulfill promises that a more effective management plan will be in place ahead of the next growing season.

“We have learned that the way the Idaho Department of Water Resources currently goes about managing the ESPA is not working,” said IGWA chairwoman Stephanie Mickelsen. “Without meaningful change to how water resources are managed over the coming months, we will find ourselves right back in this same position and all of Idaho will end up paying the price. We look forward to working with state leaders to chart a path that is in the best interest of the state moving forward.”

For the 2024 irrigation season, all Eastern Snake Plain Ground Water Districts will conform to the 2016 mitigation plan, in which the Ground Water Districts will collectively conserve 240,000 acre-feet of ground water and deliver 50,000 acre-feet of storage water to the Surface Water Coalition. In return, all members of the ground water districts will again be protected from curtailment.

Attorney General Raúl Labrador issued a statement Thursday, which read in part, "I am pleased with the results of the negotiations between the groundwater districts and the Surface Water Coalition. For users that depend on groundwater for crops and livestock, the economic result of water curtailment is devastating. Consequently, the entire community of surface water and groundwater users must continue to work together and reach a resolution."