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Long-term water solutions sought

New or rebuilt dams, groundwater conversions among possibilities

Dave Wilkins Capital Press February 22, 2008

Idaho officials are willing to look at just about anything that might solve the state's long-term water problems.

Possible solutions include building new dams, raising the height of existing dams or even converting a groundwater-based irrigation project to surface water usage.

Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Dave Tuthill said last month that it may be possible to rebuild Teton Dam or raise the height of Minidoka Dam, which would boost the water storage capacity at Lake Walcott.

Other possibilities include building new dams on the Boise or Weiser rivers in Western Idaho, Tuthill said at an irrigation meeting in Burley.

It isn't yet known whether any of those projects are feasible, but the state should at least study the possibilities, he said.

"It's time right now to look at some surface water storage," Tuthill said.

The Idaho Water Resources Board also put out a request late last year for proposals for a preliminary engineering study to convert a portion of the A&B Irrigation District from a groundwater project to a surface water project.

The board is now in the process of reviewing those proposals.

The A&B Irrigation District isn't opposed to a conversion project, but the district has lots of questions, manager Dan Temple said.

A&B's board of directors expressed some of its concerns in a letter to the state water board earlier this week.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions," Temple said. "The (A&B) board feels that those questions need to be answered before they can get behind this 100 percent."

The A&B district delivers irrigation water to about 82,000 acres of farmland in the eastern part of the Magic Valley.

The smaller unit A draws water from a 6,000-horsepower pumping plant on the Snake River. The larger unit B draws water from the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer via nearly 180 deep wells.

Converting the A&B district to an all-surface water project would have a positive effect on the ESPA budget by reducing groundwater withdrawals, state water officials said in their request for proposals.

The A&B board isn't in disagreement over the idea, but there are a lot of issues to be worked out, Temple said.

"If a conversion is to take place, the main concern is where is that water supply going to come from?" Temple said.

Beyond that, there are a host of other questions that would have to be dealt with, he said. For instance, who would pay for the project, and how would rights-of-way be secured for a delivery system?

"We're definitely not opposed to it because it would be a great deal, but we would like to have some of those questions answered," Temple said.

Staff writer Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls, Idaho. E-mail:
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