The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is funding a $53,000 grant to help keep more water available for junior water users in the Big Wood and Little Wood basins.

Coupled with other funding sources, the project will cost $124,825 total and will repair banks along a section of Silver Creek that have eroded. It will also install devices on the Little Wood River that record instantaneous flow information 24 hours a day, which will help the water master improve water allocation.

The project should be completed prior to the 2018 irrigation season.

The areas are along U.S. Highway 93, where water spills out of the stream channel and into old agricultural fields, creating wetlands.

That’s during peak irrigation months in the summer, and it’s estimated that as much as 10 cubic feet per second of flow is lost as a result. The area is near Craters of the Moon, and has old lava tubes and porous rock formations underground. After flooding the field, the water disappears underground, according to a project narrative submitted to the Bureau of Reclamation.

The bureau awarded the grant to the Galena Groundwater District, which covers the northern Wood River Valley. The district’s boundaries extend from Hailey up to Cherry Creek north of Ketchum.

The district wants to help junior water users downstream because its members’ use can be limited in peak season.

In a two-week period of August, which is the peak time of need for irrigators, the project should provide an additional seven to 10 days of water for junior water users, according to the project narrative.

That will also help the American Falls Reservoir, which is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation, because many junior water users of the Little Wood system turn to the reservoir to find supplemental water if the Little Wood system is being curtailed.

The project will install the flow-reading devices at 15 spots on the Little Wood River.

The work on Silver Creek will focus on repairing 2,200 feet of bank, and planting riparian vegetation to stabilize 3,200 feet of bank, according to the project narrative.

It will install weirs to ensure that existing wetlands are preserved in the spring and fall.

“While the primary goal of this project is irrigation water delivery, we are proposing to enhance the riparian areas in order to ensure the long term health of the entire Silver Creek system,” the project narrative states.

The Bureau of Reclamation has committed the $53,000 grant, and the nonprofit Silver Creek Alliance is spending $37,000 to help the project. The Groundwater District is contributing about $14,000, and more than 10 water users are committing $17,600. The Nature Conservancy has also offered to contribute to cover the cost of water users who can’t afford to do so, according to the project narrative.

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