State delays water curtailment order

4/30/2014 10:30 AM
By 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, which includes more than a dozen cities in the region.

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. Officials announced the decision earlier this week.

"Basically, our mitigation plan is to take water from the Idaho Fish and Game hatchery in Hagerman and pump that water for about a mile and a quarter," said Lynn Tominaga, the group's executive director. "We're putting the engineering information together."

Idaho Department of Water Resources' director Gary Spackman signed an order in January telling 2,300 water-rights holders they would have to shut down irrigation if they can't reach a compromise with Rangen Inc., a Hagerman-based fish farm and feed producer.

Rangen operates near Thousand Springs and contracts with Idaho Power to raise fish to be stocked in the Middle Snake River and American Falls Reservoir.

The company said its flow of spring water pouring from the canyon in 1966 was 50.7 cubic feet per second. It said that in 2012, the flow was 14.6 cubic feet per second, a decrease the company says is caused by groundwater pumpers.

Courts have ruled that removing groundwater reduces the flows from springs, violating the water rights of those with earlier claims.

"It's disappointing that the state is kicking the can down the road on this," said Fritz Haemmerle, Rangen's attorney. "In the worst year in the drought history, they're (Rangen) going to suffer. They're not going to get their water, but these late water users can keep on pumping water away from senior water users."

State officials plan to schedule a hearing to consider the latest mitigation plan. It's unclear when the state will make a decision on whether to put the curtailment order back in place.

Haemmerle said he hadn't seen the second mitigation plan by the groundwater pumpers but said he doubted it would contain enough information to overturn the curtailment order.

In the long-running battle over water in the region, attorneys for 14 south-central Idaho cities that rely on groundwater pumping formally organized in February to fight the curtailment order. The cities have also filed their own mitigation plan.

Rob Williams, a Jerome attorney leading the coalition, said a curtailment would have "overwhelmingly" crippled cities such as Heyburn and Richfield.

"This gives cities more time to avoid curtailment," he said.

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Information from: The Times-News, http://www.magicvalley.com


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