Governor’s Office aids water users in reaching historic crop-saving settlement amid extreme drought

Friday July 9, 2021

(Boise, Idaho) – As the State of Idaho faces the worst drought in years, a group of water users in Blaine County – with the aid of the Governor’s office, House Speaker Scott Bedke, the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) and others – came together to reach a historic settlement this week, ensuring the continued growth of crops in the area.

Governor Brad Little commended the ground water and surface water users in Blaine County for reaching a settlement to avoid the curtailment of about 140 ground water users on approximately 23,000 acres of land in the Bellevue Triangle area, while also ensuring that senior water users on Silver Creek and the Little Wood River are mitigated for their injury from ground water pumping in this extreme drought year.

“This settlement is an important first step and sets the stage for a long-term solution in the Wood River area. I appreciate the efforts by the surface and ground water users to come to a resolution that protects senior water rights while allowing some groundwater pumpers the ability to provide valuable crops,” Governor Little said. “I would also like to thank Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Gary Spackman and his team for their expertise and genuine desire to reach a meaningful resolution. This kind of coming together to face our challenges head on – especially during an extreme drought year – is what Idahoans do.”

Many Idaho counties, including Blaine County, have been declared drought emergency areas to assist with water shortages, drought conditions, and receiving federal aid. Weeks of unrelenting triple-digit heat in southern Idaho have compounded the drought situation, causing higher water evaporation and increased demand for meager water supplies.

Officials credited Speaker Bedke with assisting surface and ground water users in reaching a settlement, the components of which were outlined in a “Term Sheet,” which was submitted to IDWR Director Gary Spackman as an amended mitigation plan on July 7. Director Spackman agreed to adopt the Term Sheet as the basis for the amended mitigation plan, which he approved July 8.

In addition to approving the amended mitigation plan, Director Spackman stayed his curtailment order for the Bellevue Triangle area, which had been in place since July 1. Director Spackman instructed Basin 37 Watermaster Kevin Lakey to monitor ground water diversions in the Bellevue Triangle and reinstate curtailment if the ground water users do not fulfill the components of the Term Sheet, officials said.

The signatory parties to the settlement include the South Valley Ground Water District, Galena Ground Water District, Big Wood and Little Wood Water Users Association, Big Wood Canal Company, and Blaine County landowner Larry Schoen, a former county commissioner.

Under the terms of the settlement, the mitigation plan obligates ground water irrigation users to provide 23 cubic feet per second (cfs) of natural flow on the Little Wood River as measured at the Milner-Gooding Canal crossing of the Little Wood River, acquire 2,500 acre-feet of storage water rights for delivery via the Milner-Gooding Canal to the Little Wood River, and to end ground water diversion for the season by Aug. 15, with some exceptions for seed potatoes.

The Term Sheet also requires ground water users to work through the Big Wood Ground Water Management Area Advisory Committee in coordination with surface water users affected by ground water pumping, to develop and submit a Ground Water Management Plan for the long-term sustainable management of the Wood River Valley Aquifer by Dec. 1, 2021.

IDWR officials sent a letter detailing water settlement to approximately 140 water users facing curtailment in the Bellevue Triangle area on Thursday, July 8. For more information on the settlement Term Sheet and the Director’s order, go to the following IDWR web site link:

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