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Wood River water management plan seeks to cut down groundwater use

An alfalfa field in the Wood River Valley
Samuel M Beebe
/
Flickr Creative Commons
An alfalfa field in the Wood River Valley

Farmers, cities and other parties that use water in the Big and Little Wood basins are on their way to forming a new management plan, following the extreme drought last summer.

The agreement sets the stage for water management in the Wood River watershed for the next three years. Tim Luke of the Idaho Department of Water Resources laid out the basics to the water resource board last week.

Even in "normal" water years, some farmers will have to use less groundwater and plant fewer acres. Those reductions will likely increase in dry years, depending on snowpack levels and stream flows.

“The reductions are based and planned on April 1 and they kind of stick there, but on June 1, the final decision is made on how much additional water is required," Luke said.

Last summer, the state ordered 200 groundwater wells south of Bellevue to turn off for one week after farmers had already started irrigating.

The parties, which include water users associations, a canal company, the Sun Valley Company, and cities in the Wood River Valley, sought to balance senior surface water rights with the interests of farmers reliant on groundwater. Most water rights for groundwater are junior to those for surface water, so users with surface water rights tend to get priority when there are water shortages.

The agreement will also set up a fund for conservation, infrastructure and efficiency, and it calls for $210,000 in contributions annually from water users and the Idaho Water Resource Board.

The department hopes to present a final draft of the water agreement to the public next month.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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