The Idaho Legislature's Natural Resources Interim Committee examined several water issues that could impact Idaho citizens as well as looming budget talks.
A long-term agreement on managing an eastern Idaho water source may face setbacks and possibly delays thanks to the tightening state budget. The Idaho Water Resource Board is requesting $3 million in the next budget for the Eastern Snake Plane Aquifer Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan (ESPA CAMP), but board administrator Hal Anderson said the project can make do with just $1 million. Anderson said anything less would delay or possibly end the plan.
The ESPA CAMP is a 20-year plan to boost water levels around the eastern part of the Snake River, which is the water source for a third of the Idaho population. The plan calls for adding 600,000 acre-feet of water to the aquifer. One acre-foot of water is enough to fill a swimming pool the size of a football field one foot deep.
Water rights disputes have gone through the courts for decades. Negotiations on this plan started in 2006, with Idaho lawmakers approving the 20-year plan in April.
Anderson presented the IWRB's rough draft of new legislation for funding the ESPA CAMP to lawmakers on the Natural Resources interim committee Tuesday in Boise. "What we’re trying to accomplish is to keep the aquifer healthy," Anderson told IdahoReporter.com.
Lawmakers say the IWRB likely won't get all the funding they're asking for. “I anticipate less than $3 million from the state,” State Rep. Jim Patrick, R-Twin Falls, said during the panel meeting. “We probably don’t have that much to contribute.”
Anderson told the panel that without any state money, the eastern Snake aquifer won’t improve. “If we don’t have the money coming in, we won’t get the project done,” he said.
Anderson said the aquifer plan will cost $10 million a year for the next decade, and the IWRB would manage that money. Roughly $2 million would come from the federal government. For the rest, the state general fund would cover 40 percent of the funding, and 60 percent would come from fees on water users in eastern Idaho. Depending on how the water is used, those fees would show up on water bills or property tax assessments.
That 40/60 match between the state and water uses would stay intact regardless of how much the state funds the ESPA CAMP. That means if lawmakers fund $1 million instead of $3 million, water users will pay proportionately smaller fees. If there’s no money in the budget for the aquifer plan this year, then no extra fees will go out.
“We need at least $1 million to get this going,” Anderson told the panel of lawmakers. “If we delay, it could potentially die on the vine.”
The issue of recharging the Eastern Snake Plane Aquifer was a point of contention between lawmakers and Anderson. Recharging is deliberately putting surface water into the ground aquifer. It’s a major part of the IWRB’s plan to boost water levels in the ESPA.
“Recharge is an important component of the CAMP plan,” Anderson told the panel. Anderson said the IWRB has already received a $15 million federal grant for a recharging program. That grant requires some matching funds from local groups, but Anderson said it won’t require money from the state general fund.
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, and other committee members questioned why the draft legislation on the ESPA CAMP funding plan barely mentions recharge. “This [legislation] does not have everything we asked for in the bill last year.”
Anderson said the IWRB will add a section to the legislation about recharge before bringing the plan back to lawmakers.
Another IWRB plan to increase water in the Eastern Snake Plane Aquifer is weather modification or cloud seeding to increase precipitation. Cloud seeding is a process in which generators release chemical particles into the sky during storms to increase rain or snow. Nevada currently has a cloud-seeding program. Anderson said weather modification could have a 5 to 10 percent increase in rain, but said it would be hard to measure the real results of weather modification.
The topic of weather modification led to an interesting back-and-forth during the committee meeting between Anderson and Republican State Rep. Scott Bedke of Oakley. Bedke said cloud seeding would be a ‘leap of faith’ for the aquifer.
Anderson responded by saying he believed the scientists working on the issue were telling the board the right stuff.
Bedke then asked Anderson, “Is this science better than global warming science?”
Anderson replied, “I would say yes.”
Anderson said Idaho Power is working with some grassroots organizations in eastern Idaho on weather modification projects.
Idaho Department of Water Resources planning chief Brian Patton updated the committee on several dam construction projects. The federal Bureau of Reclamation is planning some renovations at the 103-year-old Minidoka Dam on the Snake River in south central Idaho, so the state DWR studied raising the dam 5 feet. Patton reported that the plan would cost $186 million and create 67,000 more acre-feet of water storage. No federal funding would be available for raising the dam wall and Patton said the price tag would go up if the legislature doesn’t commit to funding the project by next February.
Patton said the DWR is also working the Bureau of Reclamation on possibly rebuilding the Teton Dam near Rexburg. The original Teton Dam failed in 1976, which led to 11 deaths and massive property damage. The DWR study of the Teton area won’t be finished until 2011.
The DWR is also working with the Army Corps of Engineers on researching how to prevent the Boise River from flooding in Treasure Valley. Patton said the Boise River has a low level of flood protection given the population of Boise and its suburbs. The study by DWR and the Corps into preventing floods and improving the water supply and ecosystem of the Boise River should finish in 2012.
Lawmakers heard Patton’s report and asked him a few technical questions, but did not endorse or rebuke any of the ongoing studies by DWR.