Idaho may be in for a change with how one of its most essential natural resources is managed: water.
“Our goals are to both enhance the aquifer and to enhance economic development,” said Gary Spackman, director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources. Spackman spoke Tuesday before a meeting of the Idaho Legislature’s Natural Resources Interim Committee, a committee comprised of both House and Senate members.
Spackman proposed to the legislators that new state policies be enacted, policies which would seek to enhance the retention and usage of water from within the aquifer. The aquifer is the layer of rock and soil within the ground where water often collects naturally.
The undertaking would involve significant infrastructure development involving new pumping, piping and regulatory functions through much of the rural regions of the state. Should the plan come to pass, farmers and ranchers would be encouraged to more effectively store and protect the aquifer that exists on their property and to then use those water resources.
Spackman believes that groundwater supplies can be saved and retained, a process known as “recharging” the aquifer, which would in turn cut down on the consumption of water that is collected by more conventional means. “The water we have is a significant resource,” he told the legislators. ”But if we mismanage it, we may see dramatic declines and we may miss a real opportunity that other states do not have.”
“My understanding is that we are a unique state in terms of our aquifer resources,” commented Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, co-chair of the committee.
Spackman concurred with Pearce, and suggested that this uniqueness underscores the need for a plan to protect and retain the ground-based water resources.
Joining Spackman at the committee hearing was David Tuthill, a former staffer with the Idaho Department of Water Resources, who is now a consultant with Idaho Water Engineering LLC, a private firm based in Boise. “I agree with Director Spackman’s ideas on this matter and I’m here to add to them and build on them,” Tuthill told the legislators.
Tuthill explained that enhancing Idaho’s aquifer would take collaboration between state and federal government agencies and the private sector, and said that his plan relies primarily on the private sector. “Throughout our state’s history, the private sector has played the overwhelming majority role with managing water,” Tuthill stated.
Tuthill’s proposals seek to have the private sector take the lead with enhancing the aquifer. He suggested that farmers and ranchers who pumped water out of the ground and distributed the water back to general water supplies could receive a “water credit” for their contribution.
During a questioning period, Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, stated to Tuthill “the director (Spackman) noted that he wants to both promote sustainability and to promote economic growth. In your view, which of those priorities should take precedence?”
“We believe we can do both,” Tuthill replied. “We feel that there is more water in the state than we need for mere sustainability. As it stands right now, many aquifers leak, and if we could fix that, we believe the environmental and economic benefits would be significant.”
Pearce noted to Tuthill that “you have promoted underground water storage, but our governor is pushing surface level water storage. Are you a proponent of that as well?”
“I am a great supporter of that,” Tuthill responded. “But opportunities for surface storage are limited. We believe that we need to act on recharging the aquifer as well.”
“This would be totally voluntary.” Tuthill told IdahoReporter.com following his committee presentation. “This would be a primarily private sector effort and private landowners would participate in the plan only if they believed that it was to their benefit to do so. We believe we can structure this so it would be beneficial to all.”
Spackman said that there needs to be more discussion of the idea among legislators, and then legislative action in the 2014 session that convenes in January.