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To preserve senior water rights, water curtailment ordered for six Idaho groundwater districts

Posted at 5:19 PM, Jun 03, 2024

TWIN FALLS, Idaho — A water curtailment order was issued for six groundwater districts in the Eastern Snake River Plain, putting 500,000 acres at risk of water shut-offs.

  • In Idaho, junior water rights holders can get their water only once senior water rights have been allotted.
  • In April, the Idaho Department of Water found that the Twin Falls Canal Company would experience a shortfall of 74,100 acre-feet of water, due to diminished reserves in the Snake River Plain Aquifer.
  • Groundwater Appropriators responded that the order put hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland at risk of drying up, and could cost millions in economic losses.

(Below is the transcript from the broadcast story)

On May 31st the Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Mathew Weaver issued a curtailment order for six groundwater districts.

Is that a big deal?

“To give you some perspective and estimated about 500,000 acres are subject to curtailment, which is half of all the groundwater acres in the eastern snake plain,” attorney Kent Fletcher told Idaho News 6. “So for many reasons, that's a very big deal.

Fletcher represents several surface water irrigation clients.

“My clients don't want to see curtailment,” Fletcher said. “I mean it's devastating to a lot of people.”

You've probably heard first in time, first in right. In Idaho, junior water rights holders can only get their water once the senior water rights have been met.

Surface water users, like the Twin Falls Canal Company, in most cases have senior rights, dating back to the early 1900s.

Based on IDWR calculations, without curtailment, the Twin Falls Canal Company stood to suffer a shortfall of 74,100 acre feet this season

"That's about 12 days worth of water,” said Twin Falls Canal Company GM Jay Barlogi.

Barlogi has been with the company since 1992. He says they rely on springs flowing from the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer for about 80% of their water.

And while reservoirs and storage systems are topped off from a good winter in southern Idaho, in similar years they've still had to reduce deliveries

“Recent years we've had good snowpack. Our storage supply filled in 2021 and 2022. We'd reduced diversions down to half an inch per acre in both of those years,” Barlogi said.

After 10 years of litigation, an agreement was reached between surface water districts and groundwater districts to follow mitigation plans that would ensure the senior water rights users would get their share.

In response to the curtailment an attorney representing groundwater users called the situation “absurd,” saying “hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland, and their associated economic benefits, are thrown away during a wet year to cause a small amount of additional water to overflow from the aquifer into the snake river,”

“Really, all the groundwater has to do is comply with the terms that they agreed to back in 2015,” Barlogi said. “There are multiple mitigation plans in place for them to use for some reason they have chosen not to do that.”

“The mitigation plan at the district sign was to restore the aquifer and restore water supplies, resulting from decades and decades of pumping so that we can get to a point where there is entry occurring to surface water users,” Fletcher said. “That's still our goal as a surface water community.”