Idaho Water Director issues cutback order for 6 groundwater districts, including eastern Idaho –

BOISE, Idaho (IDWR press release) – During the Surface Water Coalition’s ongoing joint conference call, Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Mathew Weaver today issued a final abatement order finding that six groundwater districts were not in compliance with their existing, approved mitigation plans to address 74,100 acre-feet of damage to elderly water users.

The order states that water rights in these six districts that existed before March 31, 1954, will now be restricted. The order directs watermasters to begin the restriction process. Groundwater users who have not previously participated in a groundwater district for mitigation purposes will have an additional 15 days to join an approved mitigation plan or face restriction.

The Order is expected to affect approximately 6,400 groundwater rights overlying the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer Region (ESPA). The entities affected by the Order can be found in Exhibits A and B of the Director's Order.

Not all junior groundwater users are failing to comply with their approved remediation plans. In his order, Weaver noted that six entities – the Southwest Irrigation District, the Coalition of Cities, the Water Mitigation Coalition and the American Falls-Aberdeen, Henrys Fork and Madison groundwater districts – continue to comply with their approved remediation plans and are thus protected from cuts.

The following six groundwater districts were found to be in violation of an approved remediation plan:

• Bingham Groundwater District

• Bonneville-Jefferson Groundwater District

• Jefferson-Clark Groundwater District

• Magic Valley Groundwater District

• Carey Valley Groundwater District

• North Snake Groundwater District

The Director's curtailment order and other related orders in recent weeks clearly stated that groundwater utilities must comply with their two existing approved mitigation plans and thus avoid curtailment. Due to ongoing disagreements with the Department and with each other, the groundwater districts affected by curtailment ultimately decided not to comply with any of their plans in the required manner. As a result, many junior groundwater users will be affected by curtailment who might otherwise have been spared.

“We are surprised that six groundwater districts have chosen not to comply with the terms of their approved remediation plans and subject their members to cuts,” said Brian Patton, IDWR deputy director.

Users of ESPA groundwater were informed in good time that they must take measures to avoid restrictions.

On April 18, 2024, Weaver issued the As-Applied Methodology Order for the 2024 irrigation season, impacting junior groundwater users in the ESPA region. The April order identified a water shortage of 74,100 acre-feet for the Twin Falls Canal Co. (TFCC). TFCC has held priority water rights since October 1900. The April order gave junior groundwater users until May 2 to submit remedial notices to the Department demonstrating compliance with their approved remedial plans.

The Methodology Order is the court-approved procedure that the IDWR uses to determine harm to holders of priority water rights caused by secondary water users pumping from the ESPA.

Under Idaho water law, water users with priority water rights have priority over water users with secondary rights. In the Eastern Snake River Plain, the IDWR manages both surface and groundwater resources jointly as a whole, or “conjunctive.” Generally, groundwater rights are subordinate to surface water rights.

The 74,100 acre-feet deficit is due to a number of factors, including mountain snowpack, reservoir contents, irrigation needs, and aquifer conditions.

The Director of the IDWR must issue an order at the beginning of the irrigation season and then again in early July identifying any deficits in the water supply to priority surface water rights holders. If the Department identifies a deficit, junior groundwater pumps must mitigate their impacts or the IDWR will restrict junior use.

Please refer to the Director's Order of May 30 for further details. As required by law, the Director will issue an updated Order in July after reviewing the information available at that time regarding the new water supply and crop water needs.

Anna Harden

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