First there were as many as 40 options.
Those were whittled down to 17.
Now the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation aims to reduce further the number of viable choices to increase available Henrys Fork water supplies. The results will be available in an interim report that should be made public next month.
Rebuilding the Teton Dam is among the alternatives, and the Bureau of Reclamations Robert Schattin said that alternative is in the forefront of peoples minds because of the dams fatal failure 36 years ago.
We like to focus on how broad this study is, Schattin said. But I know everyone wants to focus on Teton Dam.
He said the topics passion is illustrated in the number of people who attend meetings it typically is just a handful, but the dam idea draws a crowd.
We have 45 to 50 people coming to every meeting, he said. We have irrigators from irrigation companies, as well as people from state and federal agencies.
The dams 1976 failure killed 11 people, triggered 200 landslides and caused $2 billion in property damage.
Its impossible to determine whether rebuilding Teton Dam would be best for water users, Trout Unlimiteds Idaho Water Project Director Kim Trotter said, because the bureau has not said how much storage is needed.
This is a big point, she said. Do we need 100,000 acre-feet of storage? A million? Are we trying to meet the needs of people just within the basin? Are we trying to meet needs of irrigators? The needs of all of southern Idaho?
The study area is upstream of where the Henrys Fork of the Snake River meets the South Fork, and includes the Henrys Fork, Fall River and Teton River watersheds. The area also is situated above part of the Eastern Snake River Plain aquifer.
A final draft of the study will be completed by October 2013.
A WEALTH OF IDEAS
Water storage alternatives include both new and existing surface storage options, including enlarging dams in Island Park and Ashton; managing groundwater recharge; increased agricultural conservation; and management- and market-based alternatives.
Under the studys four Teton Dam scenarios, reconstruction would take place at the same location of the original dam on the Teton River, with estimated costs ranging from about $93 million to more than $322 million. The Teton Dam cost $70 million to build in 1975 about $326 million in todays dollars .
Dale Swensen, Fremont-Madison Irrigation District executive director, is among those who say its time to rebuild the dam. The increased water storage provided by it would help farmers and ranchers mitigate droughts and winters with little snowfall, he said.
This year our irrigation district is basically going to use all of its storage water, Swensen said. If we have a dry winter, our storage supplies are going to be very limited, and were not the only irrigation district or canal company in that situation Storage from Teton Dam could be vital during the second year of a drought.
Others, including Trotter of Trout Unlimited, contend that rebuilding Teton Dam would devastate critical habitat for species such as Yellowstone cutthroat trout. They also claim it would inhibit access to recreation.
What we need to be focusing on is how we move water, Trotter said. What can we do to get water irrigators what they need without completely draining or damming up a river? We know from other (areas) there are more timely, more socially acceptable ways to do this.
Swensen said the increased water storage that would be created by a new dam is needed for agriculture, power production, flood control, and future development for cities and industry.
But Trotter said all that is possible without rebuilding the Teton Dam. Time should be spent exploring water markets, as well as moving water through pipelines and other conveyance systems, she said.
Should the bureau decide that a dam is the best alternative, raising the Ashton or Island Park dams would leave less of an environmental disturbance than re-creating Teton, she said.
I can sincerely say weve been looking at all alternatives and having the process play out the way its supposed to, Schattin said. We really just need to do a good study. I feel overwhelming political pressure either way.