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Groundwater users file petitions before tentative deal

By Jennifer Sandmann
Twin Falls Times-News

TWIN FALLS – Some 21 Magic Valley water users had filed petitions related to the possible shutdown of Northside wells before Monday(March 15) night's announcement of a tentative agreement averting curtailment.

The petitioners' circumstances are as varied as their numbers, and they said loss of groundwater would leave their farms, schools and even the Bliss rest area without water.

The filings with the Idaho Department of Water Resources included mitigation proposals, pleas for relief and requests for hearings. Many of the petitioners said they were not members of groundwater districts that are proposing other mitigation efforts.

Here are some of the petitioners and their concerns:

  • Carey Water and Sewer District -- All of the district's water would be cut off by curtailment. Eighty percent of its water is delivered to Carey School. The rest goes to 175 homes and 10 other establishments.
    The district predicts curtailment wouldn't save any water because water users would resort to drilling numerous unregulated domestic wells.

    "Groundwater levels in the Carey area have increased in recent years, suggesting little or no relationship to diminishing flows at Thousand Springs," the district's petition says.

  • The Carey Valley Ground Water Users, which diverts about 7,000 acre feet of water each year, also face curtailment and make the same argument.

  • Small water users – Small water users including those on the outer borders of the affected Water District 130 question whether their water use affects the Hagerman Valley springs at all.

  • Arlen and MarLee Buerkle said they wouldn't be able to water about 400 trees and grassy areas on 1.67 acres at their recreational vehicle park. They were asking the department if they could use their unaffected wells for watering instead.

  • Gene and Judi Frederickson of Jerome argued that the state's curtailment order lacked proof that wells 10 or 20 or more miles away from the Snake River Canyon could affect the springs. They also objected to a lack of information about how much water is actually being used by fish producers.

  • "Most groundwater pumpers who pump groundwater for their crops have been true conservationists, resorting to water savings techniques and management practices to lessen waste. The order penalizes conservation of water and good farm management practices," the Fredericksons' petition said.

  • City of Burley – An area of town north of the Snake River in Minidoka County has one well that could be curtailed. The well was drilled in 1960, before the July 13, 1962, cutoff date but was acquired by the city in 1962. The city said the well's priority date should actually be 1960 and also that the well does not affect the Hagerman springs anyway.

  • J.R. Simplot Co. – The company has about 86 acre feet of water that would be lost to curtailment, including water to maintain humidity in potato storage. Instead of shutting down these water rights, the company proposed to mitigate for the 86 acre feet a year through the closure of its Heyburn potato plant.

  • Simplot last week announced it will donate the Heyburn property to the city of Burley. Burley City Administrator Mark Mitton said the city has been negotiating with Simplot over its industrial water rights that allow pumping up to nearly 5 million gallons a day partially provided by a 1959 water right. Burley could receive rights for up to 2 million gallons, Mitton said.

  • In addition to the mitigation water it proposed, the company has six other water rights at the Heyburn plant that could be curtailed.

  • State water– The Idaho Transportation Department said it was determined in an earlier analysis by Water Resources that water use at the Bliss rest area would have a negligible affect on Bancroft Spring.

  • Clear Lakes Trout Co. – The company, which is suing Water Resources over groundwater management, objected to an Idaho Dairymen's Association's petition for a hold on the curtailment order. The trout producer says a delay would further hurt the company's water supply and petitioned to intervene in the dairymen's request.