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Who is responsible for Idaho’s water supply?

Who is responsible for Idaho’s water supply?

A generic answer would be ‘everyone.’ A more thoughtful answer would specify policymakers, cities, developers, tribes, and agriculture and resemble the group which discussed Idaho’s water situation on Monday, August 7th.

Water interests from across Idaho met this week for Governor Brad Little’s Water Summit. Many representatives presented challenges and concerns for Idaho’s growing population. The messages overwhelmingly spoke of a decline in water resources across Idaho, with every region concerned about the historical downward trend in water resources.

But Lieutenant Governor Scott Bedke pointed towards the 98% of water used for farming and the remaining 2% for everything else, saying that the burden of sustainability falls on agriculture.

So what are Idaho farmers doing to mitigate the water concerns, specifically on the Eastern Snake Plains Aquifer?

Individual farmers across Idaho are adopting less water consumptive crops, new irrigation technologies, and better water management practices. But collectively, as water appropriation groups, the actions of agriculture seem more blame appropriating than water conserving.

The ongoing dispute between water users in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer was a major part of the Water Summit’s presentations. Twin Falls Canal Company, Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Bingham Ground Water District, and Minidoka Irrigation District presented their concerns for the water supply and the actions they’re all taking to conserve water. The four water groups respectfully discussed the challenging issue.

Marc Gibbs, representing surface water users in the Twin Falls Canal company, shared the conservation practices their farmers are adopting and the historically low ground water levels their farmers face each year. He said he is kept awake at night because 2023 is expected to be one of the lowest groundwater years on record, leaving farmers in his district short on water.

Jaxon Higgs, a hydrogeologist for the Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, explained that aquifer stabilization has not been done in the west and that this problem will take years to fix, with hard work not just words and plans. He also shared that the aquifer stabilization target keeps moving as new estimates are made on the size of the aquifer.

Alan Jackson, from Bingham Ground Water District reiterated the many challenges groundwater users will face if water allotments for groundwater users are decreased, hurting the economies of farmers and rural communities.

Scott Pugard, from Mininidoka Irrigation District, shared about the historical challenges in many water districts along the Idaho/Utah border, and reiterated the basic need for ongoing metering at all points in the process.

All four parties care for the Eastern Snake Plains Aquifer but determining how to remediate this valuable resource is a challenging proposition. Farmers, rural communities, and the future growth of Idaho depends on the vitality of this $10 billion resource. The next steps forward to improve the aquifer need to fairly balance the responsibility of all farmers and water appropriation groups with the scientific reality of how much change is really possible in slowing a depleting aquifer.

Governor Little said at this week’s meeting, “We really need to put a lot of our differences behind, and let’s take advantage of what we learned today. Our policies in Idaho demonstrate that we are true conservationists. These people are moving here because of what Idaho looks like, and how we manage water is going to be incredibly important going forward.”

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