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State delays water curtailment order

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Department of Water Resources has delayed an order to shut off water to south-central Idaho groundwater pumpers. The Times-News reports (http://bit.ly/1iCYc5w) that the curtailment set for Monday is now delayed so officials can review a second mitigation plan submitted by the Idaho Groundwater Appropriators. Idaho Department of Water Resources' director Gary Spackman signed an order in January telling 2,300 water-rights holders they will have to shut down irrigation if they can't reach a compromise with Rangen Inc., a Hagerman-based fish farm and feed producer. The company says its flow of spring water has dropped significantly. Courts have ruled that removing groundwater reduces the flows from springs, violating the water rights of those with earlier claims. State officials plan to schedule a hearing to consider the latest mitigation plan.

What a difference 60 days makes: From ‘poor’ irrigation season to ‘normal’

In just 60 days, southwestern Idaho has gone from what looked to be a “poor” irrigation season, with much lower levels of water available than normal, to a “normal” water season with full irrigation allotments and flows. “It is amazing how quick things can turn around,” said Tim Page, project manager for the Boise Project Board of Control, which oversees five area irrigation districts. That was thanks to the big late-season snowfall in the high country that extended the season and built snowpacks up from subpar levels to healthy ones; click below for the Boise Project Board of Control's full irrigation season announcement. It includes this news: Starting April 9, the project will begin filling more than 460 canals and laterals in Ada and Canyon counties, meaning it's time to caution kids not to play in dangerous canals. 

March precipitation amounts ranged from 103% to 190% of normal, according to the Idaho Natural Resources Conservation Service. “The water year started with four dry months from October to January,” said Ron Abramovich, water supply specialist with the Idaho NRCS. “The water supply made an amazing recovery due to the February and March precipitation.” However, he noted that some areas of the state still face water shortages, including the Big Wood, Big Lost, Little Lost, Oakley, Owyhee, and Salmon Falls basins.

Storms paint better picture of region’s snowpack

WEATHER — February's storms are loading the region's mountains with snow, presenting a better picture for outdoor recreation that depends on water, including anglers and river runners.

However, we need another snow dance or two for the Idaho Panhandle.  March can be a good month.

Here's the report from NOAA that goes with the map graphic above:

Considerable snowfall across the region in February served to pump up the water content in the area's snowpack. This image depicts the current Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) as a percent of normal as measured by the region's snow telemetry (SNOWTEL) sensors.

SNOWTEL is operated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). The data from these sensors is available online.  

Stuck driver survives on M&Ms, water

BURLEY, Idaho (AP) — Officials in south-central Idaho say a Texas woman may have spent up to a week in a rental car stuck in a dairy wastewater pond after taking a wrong turn as she searched for a hotel in Burley.

Cassia County officials say 61-year-old Lynn S. Keesler of Houston was evaluated by emergency medical technicians, but refused to go to the hospital.

The sheriff's report says Keesler thought she had been stranded for three to five days, but a deputy gave her directions to the hotels in Burley on Jan. 15. She walked to a nearby house for help on Jan. 22.

The Times-News reports the woman told officers she lived on M&Ms and water and stayed in the car because she'd been told not to leave her vehicle if she became stranded.

The water wars: Franklin County farmers sue over large feedlot’s water demand…

Local farmers today filed a lawsuit against a large-scale feedlot in Franklin County, saying that the cattle operation could use hundreds of thousands of gallons of groundwater a day in one of the driest areas of the state.

The case could mushroom into more than just a Franklin County water fight. A critical change in water law came when Attorney General Rob McKenna — widely assumed to be a future candidate for governor — issued a controversial opinion in 2005. Wells for watering livestock have for decades been exempt from many water regulations, but the state Department of Ecology had long said that such wells are limited to pumping 5,000 gallons a day. In response to a query from Sen. Bob Morton, R-Kettle Falls and then-Rep. (now Sen.) Janea Holmquist, R-Moses Lake, McKenna, however, said that Ecology didn’t have the right to automatically limit such wells to 5,000 gallons. (McKenna also, however, noted that Ecology could step in and impose limits on any water withdrawal in critical problem areas. He also pointed out that lawmakers can modify water law however they wish.)

Now, according to the Spokane-basede Center for Environmental Law and Policy, Easterday Ranches Inc. wants to build a feedlot for up to 30,000 head of cattle, using the stock-watering exemption to pump up to 600,000 gallons a day.

“after over 100 years of conservative farming on some of the driest land in Washington, our lives and our livelihoods are in jeopardy from this huge industrial feedlot,” dryland wheat farmer Scott Collin said in a press release announcing the lawsuit today.

(The full text of the press release is below, after the jump.)

Another dispatch from the water wars…

There’s another interesting farmers-versus-environmentalists water battle shaping up in the statehouse this year.

Farm groups are backing a reform that sounds utterly common-sense: changing decades-old laws that require farmers to use every drop of their water allocation or, after a few years of failing to do so, losing that valuable water right.

“It’s better to leave it in the ground than pump out on the ground and let it evaporate,” Craig Grub, with the Spokane County Cattlemen, told lawmakers at a yearing recently.

But it’s not that simple, environmental groups responded. They say that allowing people to sit on their water rights indefinitely, instead of putting them to beneficial use, would allow people who don’t actually need water to keep an unfair hold on it.

State Rep. John McCoy, D-Marysville, repeatedly made it clear that he wants wells metered to ensure that people aren’t pumping too much.

“Without meters,” he asked cattle ranchers, “how can you tell us that your’e conserving water and only using what you’re supposed to?”

A new round of an old fight: water dispute pits cattle industry against environmental groups…

Environmentalists and cattlemen clashed Thursday over a decades-old law that allows largely unlimited pumping from wells – with no permit – as long as the water is used for livestock.

To ranchers, that’s a common-sense exception that helps agriculture and dates back many decades.

To environmental groups and some Indian tribes, it’s a glaring loophole that’s being wrongly applied to industrial-scale feedlots.

“We don’t have water left to be giving away exempt water rights in large quantities,” Spokane environmental attorney Rachael Paschal Osborn told state lawmakers Thursday. If the Legislature wants to encourage the cattle industry and feedlots, she said, “they can go out and buy a water right just like everyone else in this state.”