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Idaho Department of Water Resources curtailing Snake River ground water use

The curtailment process will begin on May 20, according to the order, unless ground water users agree to join an approved mitigation plan prior to that time.

BOISE, Idaho — The Director for the Idaho Department of Water Resources has issued a methodology order for Snake River ground water users.

The order comes after initial data predicts a 162,600 acre-foot water shortfall for senior priority surface water users in the Eastern Snake River Plain (ESPA) region in the 2022 irrigation season.

The shortfall prediction led to IDWR's decision to curtail more than 328 groundwater rights in the coming weeks for junior water rights holders with priority dates after Dec. 25, 1979, if the holders of those water rights do not comply with the approved mitigation plan.

The curtailment process will begin on May 20, according to the order, unless ground water users agree to join an approved mitigation plan prior to that time.

There are currently seven approved mitigation plans for the ESPA surface water delivery call. The plans came from the Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc. (IGWA), Southwest Irrigation District, Goose Creek Irrigation District, Coalition of Cities and Water Mitigation Coalition. 

According to the Director's order, these organizations will not need to show how they can mitigate projected water shortfalls.

In July, the Department's injury determination will be updated. Junior water users who may be affected by the order have been sent a copy of the order this week.

RELATED: Emergency drought declaration issued for all of Southern Idaho

"By law, we have to keep people with senior water rights whole, and we want to make the junior ground water pumpers aware that despite the settlement agreements between the Surface Water Coalition ("SWC"), IGWA, and the Participating Cities, if junior ground water pumpers are not participating in an approved mitigation plan, they could be subject to curtailment this year," said Mathew Weaver, Deputy Director of IDWR.

A lot of the recent water litigation has resulted from conflict between Snake River surface water users with senior water rights, under the basic "first in time, first in right" principle of Idaho water law, and ground water users with junior water rights in the ESPA.

As a result, the Director of IDWR is required to issue an order at the beginning of each irrigation season, and then again in early July, to determine if there is any shortfall in the water supply to the senior surface water right holders; or to determine if junior ground water pumpers need to curtail their water use to mitigate the depletion of senior priority water rights.

Ground water users who decided to join an approved mitigation plan can avoid curtailment this year and in the future, and will be able to avoid future large-scale litigation issues related to water use in the ESPA area that could affect cities, commerce, industry, agriculture and the Southern Idaho economy, officials said. 

For junior ground water users that choose to not join an approved mitigation plan or demonstrate to the Director how their water use will not cause injury to senior surface water users in the next 14 days, according to the order, their water rights will be curtailed.

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