BOISE– After a very slow start to the 2020 water year, water managers worried that after three successful years of recharging 250-thousand acre-feet per year into the Snake River Aquifer, they’d finally come up short.
October, November, and December were record-setting dry months. But then the storms started in December, and then a series of storms in January and that brought snowpack levels back to normal. Water managers were able to set aside almost 90-thousand acre-feet thus far, with most of the rain and snowpack coming in January.
Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources Gary Spackman complimented his staff and the Water Resource Board for making extraordinary strides meeting the annual recharge target of 250,000 acre-feet of water into the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer on an ongoing basis. The Water Board met or exceeded that goal in the last three winters.
Last month, the Board submitted a 10-year progress report on ESPA recovery to Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, with the Board’s recharge program and initiatives by groundwater users and other stakeholders. Because of the initiatives, groundwater in the Aquifer has increased by about 1.8 million acre-feet, based on measurements of 300-plus groundwater monitoring wells in 2019.
The progress report showed the increased groundwater levels are a result of the state and the water users, including 5-6 years of capacity-buildout of the Board’s recharge program, ongoing funding support from the Idaho Legislature, and significant initiatives from the historic water settlement between Snake River surface water users and groundwater users.
That alone resulted in a 13 percent reduction in groundwater use across the ESPA or 240,000 acre-feet of water per year. Build-out of a comprehensive cloud- seeding program supported by Idaho Power Company, the Board, and the water users as well as a robust snowpack and streamflow runoff over the past several years also contributed to improved conditions in the ESPA, officials said. In the board meeting last week, Wesley Hipke, Recharge Program Manager, said the board has recharged about 89,000 acre-feet of water into the ESPA so far this year.
Under the board’s water rights for ESPA recharge, it is diverting about 670 cubic feet per second in the Magic Valley region to recharge the aquifer, Hipke said. Spackman told the Idaho Water Users Association last week that 2020 is already a year of celebration. “It’s a remarkable accomplishment,” he said.