If finalized, a preliminary order by the Idaho Department of Water Resources will combine four water districts in the Wood River and Camas Creek drainages into two districts and include groundwater rights in the upper Wood River Valley district.
The order will abolish a water measurement district created in 2011 to measure and report well-pumping within the upper Big Wood, Little Wood and Camas Creek drainages. Under the department’s order, those groundwater diversions will now become part of a regular water district.
“By placing the groundwater rights in a water district, there will be a watermaster that can regulate water rights in the event that there is a delivery call,” said Tim Luke, the department’s water compliance bureau chief.
Luke said that over the past couple of years, the department has been informed by the Big Wood Canal Co., which draws water from Magic Reservoir, that there may not be enough water reaching the reservoir to fulfill its water rights. Under the state’s rules of conjunctive management, the holders of surface water rights can make a “delivery call” for water being pumped by well owners if they believe those diversions are affecting surface water flows.
The preliminary order states that “conjunctive administration of surface and ground water rights in the Wood River basin is likely imminent.”
“The proposed combination of water districts and inclusion of surface water and ground water rights in one water district will provide for proper conjunctive administration of surface and ground water rights and the protection of senior priority water rights,” the order states.
“There will be a watermaster that can regulate water rights in the event that there is a delivery call.”
Idaho Department of Water Resources
A three-year-long study by the U.S. Geological Survey to model the upper Big Wood basin’s groundwater was launched in March. Luke said the model will help determine how curtailment of certain water rights will affect the system, but the department already knows that groundwater and surface water in the basin are connected.
“The [conjunctive management] process could be initiated before the model is completed,” he said.
The order states that “the department does not conclude that ground water rights in the Camas drainage are immune to conjunctive administration simply because ground water use is less or because the drainage has not yet been included in the development of a ground water model.”
All the Wood River Valley’s cities get their water from groundwater sources, either wells or springs. During a public hearing on the proposed order in Hailey on July 30, the cities of Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley all objected to the inclusion of groundwater rights and surface water rights in the same district.
The preliminary order was issued Sept. 19 and will become final on Friday, Oct. 4, barring the receipt of any petitions for reconsideration. Luke said Friday that the department had not received any petitions by that time.
Ketchum Public Works Director Robyn Madison said Tuesday that Ketchum and Sun Valley had not made a decision on whether to file a petition for reconsideration, and Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle said his city probably would not file one.
“We don’t think the department’s going to change their mind,” Haemmerle said.
However, he said the groundwater users may want to discuss the possibility of taking action to split the district at a later time, even though they would be subject to the rules of conjunctive management either way.
“The groundwater users have their interests that they need to advocate for as a group,” he said. “I don’t think they want to be subject to administration by the surface water users in the area.”
Greg Moore: firstname.lastname@example.org