Water board supports funding for Island Park Reservoir

Idaho panel is behind Otter’s $15 million proposal.

(IDAHO FALLS) POST REGISTERJanuary 14, 2014 

The House Resources and Conservation Committee and the Senate Resources and Environment Committee heard the board’s proposals, which are based on Gov. Butch Otter’s State of the State call for more water storage.

The governor’s proposal also includes a $2.5 million expansion project for the Island Park Reservoir.

“It is a critical investment in our capacity for responsible future growth,” Otter said during the address. The board and local water districts need financial backing to actively and effectively manage the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer for long-term sustainability, he said.

The Island Park project calls for a 3-foot increase of the reservoir’s water levels, equating to about 30,000 acre feet of new water storage.

Environmental impact studies on how those changes would affect fisheries downstream must be completed before the project could go through, said Water Resource Board Chairman Roger Chase.

The project hinges on Legislative approval through the budgeting process, and money wouldn’t be allocated until fiscal year 2015.

Work on the dam would not begin until after that.

Under the project, new rubber materials could be used to control the water levels in the area. Rubber dams are structures that can be inflated by air or water to control supply. When the bladder is deflated, impounded water is released and the bladder becomes flat.

“This would be like a rubber bladder around the reservoir to raise it up a little bit,” Chase said.

“It won’t hurt any of the summer homes around it, but again, it gives us more degrees of freedom with what we can do with our water.”

Chase said the state cannot afford to wait to tackle water storage issues, especially with reservoir levels down considerably throughout the state.

The seven reservoirs in the Bureau of Reclamation’s Upper Snake system are currently 35 percent full, according to the bureau.

The $15 million is an investment for water stability for generations to come, Chase said.

“This is about as about as low as we can go and accomplish the things we need to accomplish in the next five years,” he said.

Other projects funded by the $15 million include studies to determine the impacts of the state buying water rights near the Mountain Home Air Force base and a proposed $500 million dam on western Idaho’s Weiser River, upstream from where it flows into the Snake River.

Gary Spackman, director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources, said the Mountain Home project would help stabilize water availability in the area, allow groundwater near the base to recharge and diminish the need to rely on water from eastern Idaho for agriculture in the western portion of the state.

Without financial support from the Legislature and an up-to-date water plan, Idaho water could be threatened from needs in other states, Spackman said.

“The question I pose to you today is, do we want to see that water go away?” he said.

“Do we want to see it in a form that will be much harder to acquire down the road? … The answer is no.”

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