A newly formed advisory committee met in Shoshone for the first time Wednesday, Nov. 4, kick-starting the drafting process on a long-term plan that could collectively manage groundwater and surface water in the Big and Little Wood River basins as one resource.
Though the Idaho Department of Water Resources first designated a groundwater management area for the Big Wood River Basin in 1991, no advisory committee for the area had been formed until now.
One main issue discussed on Wednesday was the ability of north-basin, junior surface water users to continue pumping groundwater in the summertime while senior surface water users south of the Magic Reservoir see their water rights cut.
IDWR Director Gary Spackman said on Wednesday that he hoped the new groundwater advisory committee would help put that controversy to rest.
“Before disputes result in litigation, we need to make an effort—we need to try and approach this with a level of sobriety,” Spackman said.
According to District 37 Watermaster Kevin Lakey, who oversees the Big Wood River Basin from Galena Summit to Timmerman Rest Area, groundwater pumping is overseen on an annual basis by District 37 staff.
“In September, we measure total use, not daily use, in total acre feet or total gallons diverted. There’s no record of daily consumption,” Lakey explained Wednesday. “In May, we make another run to make sure meters are OK.”
No curtailments are issued to the district’s roughly 600 groundwater pumpers, he said, except for those with groundwater sources that were developed from surface water rights.
Lakey added that groundwater users can accidentally over-pump due to “human error” or battery issues with the meters, though those situations are rare.
“[Battery issues] have been a frustrating part for everyone,” he said.
The next Big Wood River Ground Water Management Area Advisory Committee is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 18. To learn more, visit idwr.idaho.gov.