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Updated Idaho Water Law Helps Refill Aquifer During High Snow Year

Samantha Wright
Boise State Public Radio
Snake River Plain Aquifer water pours out of Minnie Miller Springs in southern Idaho.

Water managers are crediting a new Idaho law with keeping water from leaving the state.

Idaho Department of Water Resources bureau chief Brian Patton says the updated policy is making things a little better for the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer. He says the state's existing water right is for one 1,200 cubic feet per second. But with all the snow southern Idaho received this winter, 15 times that amount was flowing down the river at different points.

“The excess water allowed us to be able to exceed that 1,200 cfs limit on that water right and divert more than that at times for aquifer recharge," says Patton.

He says the law is meant for years like this one, when there is surplus water in the Snake River. The Snake River Plain Aquifer is the drinking source for many in southern Idaho and the springs that flow from it support hydropower, recreation, agriculture and more.

“Stabilizing and recovering the Snake River Plain Aquifer is actually imperative to the state as a whole," says Patton, "as the aquifer has been declining for the past 60 years or so.”

But Patton says that without the right infrastructure in place, there was still a lot of water lost in this high water year.

“We were able to hit recharge about 313,000 acre feet. But still, two million acre feet went on down the river that was not able to be captured.”

He says the state is working on a more long-term solution to put more water back into the aquifer.

Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

Copyright 2017 Boise State Public Radio

Frankie Barnhill was the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast.