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Big Wood River water sought to recharge wells by Idaho company

KETCHUM, Idaho – A company’s proposal to divert water from a central Idaho river to recharge a local aquifer so its clients can use their wells during dry periods has drawn opposition from conservation groups, government agencies and utilities over concerns the project could hurt fish and create conflicts among water users.

The Idaho Mountain Express reported last week that David Tuthill, a partner at Idaho Water Engineering and ex-director of the state’s water department, aims to divert water from the Big Wood River during high flows.

He’s assembling financing for the project from a group of people who get water from wells in the region. If it wins approval from Tuthill’s former agency, the Idaho Department of Water Resources, he would be able to continue to pump from wells in times of low water.

Water is critical to Idaho’s economy, and recent years have seen battles between groundwater pumpers who pull their water from the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer and surface-water users whose water comes from canals. The issue in the region surrounding the Wood River has been exacerbated by swift growth, as the population in Blaine County has nearly quadrupled since 1970.

So far, foes include the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Bureau of Land Management, Idaho Rivers United, Idaho Power Co. and Trout Unlimited.

Fish and Game is worried about fish habitat, writing in a protest letter to Idaho’s Water Resources agency that pumping like Tuthill’s company envisions could hurt the ability of rainbow trout to migrate upstream every spring.