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Water users say Idaho's domestic well laws are a problem — but not for this legislative session

Subdivisions in Caldwell
Idaho Department Of Lands
Idaho Statesman

About 30,000 wells were drilled in Idaho in the past decade with little to no oversight on water use or quality. These are private domestic wells that deliver water for homes outside of public water systems.

Idaho water law does not require obtaining a water right for drilling one of these wells and allows them to pump up to 13,000 gallons each day for a half-acre of land.

Some, particularly in the agricultural community, think the laws around domestic wells should change.

Agriculture still accounts for the vast majority of water withdrawals in the state. According to a U.S. Geological Survey report from 2015, agriculture used about 86% of the water with public and domestic systems making up about 2%.

Still, Paul Arrington with the Idaho Water Users Association said the impact of individual wells adds up. He mentioned a recent Bingham County meeting where commissioners were considering three subdivisions with 20 to 40 homes, all planned with a private well on each lot.

"We're not talking small amounts of water here," he said. "We're talking potentially big amounts of water.

Arrington's organization helped introduce a bill this session that would’ve required proposed subdivisions with 10 or more lots to drill a community well, instead. Unlike with private domestic wells, the state could force a subdivision on a community well system to use less irrigation water in times of shortage.

“You're now part of the equation," Arrington said. "You have to shut down or curtail, potentially, or find a mitigation plan to offset your impacts as it relates to that outside irrigation.”

The bill did not get a hearing this session. Arrington gave an informal presentation to lawmakers this week. He said a group of farmers, developers and counties that's been discussing this issue for a couple of years will continue working toward a solution.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on X @racheld_cohen

Copyright 2024 Boise State Public Radio

I cover environmental issues, outdoor recreation and local news for Boise State Public Radio. Beyond reporting, I contribute to the station’s digital strategy efforts and enjoy thinking about how our work can best reach and serve our audience. The best part of my job is that I get to learn something new almost every day.

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