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State Water Officials Say Groundwater Levels In Southern Idaho Aquifer Are In Good Shape

Samantha Wright/Boise State Public Radio
Water from the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer pours out of Minnie Miller Springs in the Thousand Springs complex.

Water levels in the aquifer that much of Idaho relies on for irrigation and drinking water have rebounded over the past 10 years.


Early reports find the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer has almost reached the goal set in the Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan, which the state adopted in 2009. The long-term objective of the plan was to achieve a net water budget change — the difference between water that goes into and comes out of the aquifer — of 600,000 acre-feet each year.

The plan, otherwise known as CAMP, outlined aquifer recharge, a reduction in pumping water out of the aquifer, and cloud seeding as strategies to restore the aquifer levels.

State officials thought it might take until 2030 to reach the goal, but Brian Patton, the Executive Director of the Idaho Water Resource Board, said right now that water budget is around 550,000 acre-feet.

"The aquifer now seems to be on an upward trend. We're restoring the aquifer levels," Patton said.

Following several decades of declining water levels and water rights disagreements, the state implemented, and provided funding for, a yearly aquifer recharge program in 2015. Around the same time, senior and junior water rights holders entered into a settlement that reduced the yearly pumping demand.

Mike McVay, a water resources engineer with the Idaho Department of Water Resources, said since then, better management and some fortunate years of heavy precipitation have helped the situation.  

“We had a really good winter 2016-2017, a pretty good winter in 2017-2018 and then we did substantial aquifer recharge through the state system,” McVay said.


Earlier this week McVay presented on the state of the aquifer at a fall water supply meeting in Boise.


He said the upward trend in the aquifer water levels in the past few years is a good start, but he said it's important to keep up the recharge efforts.


“If we do something good this year and then don’t do anything the next year, then next year a lot of those changes go out through the river, through the springs," McVay said.


In January, the Idaho Water Resources Board will present a full review of the CAMP to Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke. 


Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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