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Chase: Idaho working to quantify, sustain water resources

The Idaho Department of Water Resources and the Idaho Water Resource Board continue to move forward to protect, enhance and stabilize Idaho’s water resources. Our water is among our greatest treasures; we must protect both its quality and its quantity for future generations of Idahoans.

With guidance and support from Gov. Butch Otter and the Idaho Legislature, great progress is being made to ensure that we can meet existing and future water needs. These efforts start with every person, home, industry, city, farm or any other water user finding ways to use less.

We also must find ways to do a better job reusing our water. These can be projects that cities develop to reuse wastewater, industries reusing “process water,” and agriculture finding creative ways to reuse its water.

One of the Water Resource Board’s great concerns is depletion of Idaho’s water resources, particularly our aquifers. Most of our cities, employers and ag industry stakeholders tap into groundwater aquifers to meet their needs. But many of our aquifers are dropping.

That’s why the Water Resource Board has drafted a statewide sustainability policy. The board will conduct public meetings throughout Idaho in the coming year to gather suggestions on incorporating its findings into our Comprehensive State Water Plan. Sustainability of our precious water resources is critical to our future.

Idaho is the No. 3 user of water per capita in the United States, behind only Texas and California. The agriculture industry is by far the largest water user in the state. Ag also is Idaho’s largest industry, with $7.9 billion in cash receipts in 2015. Idaho’s farms and producers not only help feed America, but also the world. The ag industry continues to be more efficient with its water use every year. But like all of us, farmers and ranchers also understand that we must do better.

The Idaho Water Resource Board’s top priority is to “stop the drop” in our aquifers, and stabilize and sustain them. In North Idaho, the board is working to protect Idaho water rights from neighboring downstream interests in Washington. We have issues regarding both the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, and the Palouse Aquifer that underlies Moscow and Pullman.

We now are adjudicating North Idaho water rights in order to justify and defend them from downstream users. This process is similar to the adjudication that Idaho recently completed in the Snake River Basin – an effort that has received positive national recognition.

The Water Resource Board has supported studies documenting and comparing the connection, magnitude and timing of impacts on drawing from the Rathdrum aquifer and pumping surface water from the Spokane River. To preserve the resource flowing through and beneath both Idaho and Washington, the board is formalizing existing water use and planning for future water demands.

In the Palouse Aquifer, we also are working to stop the drop. In November, the board approved spending $100,000 on a new study that will look for ways to recharge the aquifer and reduce groundwater consumption.

We recognize that our water resources are finite. We have done many great things with our water, but we must do better. Let us keep it clean, use it wisely, and treasure it forever.

Roger Chase is chairman of the Idaho Water Resource Board.

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