Fight over water building in south-central Idaho
Twin Falls, Idaho • Attorneys for 14 south-central Idaho cities have formally organized to fight an Idaho Department of Water Resources’ order that could reduce how much water the cities receive.
The Times-News reports (http://bit.ly/1enfZfg ) the attorneys made the decision on Thursday and plan to tell their respective city councils they will fight the water-reduction order as well as future orders by the state.
Idaho Department of Water Resources’ director Gary Spackman signed an order in January telling 2,300 water-right 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 Idaho Groundwater Appropriators have requested a stay on the curtailment order. The 14 attorneys have joined the groundwater pumpers’ request. The attorneys represent Heyburn, Rupert, Burley, Declo, Paul, Carey, Hazelton, Shoshone, Jerome, Richfield, Dietrich, Bliss, Gooding and Wendell.
Besides the cities, the water-reduction order also affects dairies as well as growers of sugar beets and potatoes in eight counties along southern Idaho’s Snake River.
"(Rangen) is saying, ‘Look, it is prior appropriation: First in line is first in right, and that’s the way the cookie crumbles. There are winners and there are losers,’ " said Rob Williams, a Jerome attorney leading the cities’ lawyers. "Yes, they have their own list of grievances. But the magnitude of this is huge and cries out for a solution that will involve all the players."
Idaho follows a water-rights practice that grants priority to whichever claim was there first. Rangen’s five water rights date from 1884, 1908, 1957, 1962 and 1977. The water right at issue in the most recent water-reduction order is the one from 1962. The company is entitled to a set amount of water that does not fluctuate even in dry years.
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. Courts have ruled that removing groundwater reduces the flows from springs, violating the water rights of those with earlier claims.
Wayne Courtney, Rangen’s executive vice president, said the plant’s flow has been down 85 percent for years and trout-rearing channels are empty. Business is bad, he said.
"We have senior water rights, and we are protecting our senior assets," Courtney said.
But cities with junior water rights say they face uncertainty with a problem that could get worse, especially in dry years.
"This Rangen call only affects 19 percent of (Jerome’s) water," Jerome Mayor David Davis said. "We are going to be OK unless it gets really hot. But down the road, if more calls come along, it could affect us even worse. We have got to do something right now."
Information from: The Times-News, http://www.magicvalley.com