ELMORE COUNTY, Idaho — A project, years in the making, is underway in Elmore County. It is helping to restore the water supply for private wells from the county's nearly depleted aquifer.
The water levels in the aquifer have been decreasing for decades.
As part of the project, the county has been trying to acquire water rights to actually pull the water out of Canyon Creek and then move it over to three drainage pits.
"When you are losing 30 to 40,000 acre feet underground in your aquifer each year it doesn't take very many years and you have some serious issues,” said Elmore County Commissioner Bud Corbus.
Corbus has been working with other county officials to fix this ongoing issue.
"It's not a fix all or one solution.” Corbus said. “It's going to take multiple things working but it will make a difference, it'll for sure help.”
Construction work over the winter to upgrade the current facilities along the creek included pouring concrete and installing improved head gates and pipes to divert more water into the drainage pits.
“This would ultimately be going past our community and into the river and gone,” Corbus said about the water. "We got the grants to pour in some concrete and improve the head gates and do that type of work."
The county’s new system diverts a lot of runoff water that ultimately would have gone to waste. This is done to help residents in the area that rely on the aquifer for their water supply.
"Right now, we have about 20 cubic-feet-per-second we're diverting out of the creek into these recharging facilities, which is equal to 40-acre-feet-per-day or 13 million gallons per day,” said Terry Scanlan said, a water engineer with SPF water engineering.
The location the county picked for the upgrades is the only place where this system would actually work because of the gravel.
"The thing that is nice about the gravel is it filters the water it cleans it and filters it before it gets into the aquifer,” Corbus said. “If you go several miles to the east or a mile to the west it's solid rock, and there are just not a lot of areas where you can get the water into the ground.”
This diversion system is being looked at as part of a long-term solution to the depleting aquifer.
“It's somewhat of a drop in the bucket," Scanlan said. "We need a number of solutions to stabilize aquifers in the Mountain Home area.”
He said they have to take advantage of the good water years from the creek, because the creek is not going to always have a lot of water to divert into the pits. The levels depend on how much snowpack is in the mountains. Scanlan said they’ll have to take the water when it's there and store it for years when the levels are lower.