Idaho water use and conservation, economic growth and resource depletion came up for discussion at the end of today’s legislative budget presentation by state water resource officials.
Gary Spackman, director of the water resources department, and Roger Chase, Water Resource Board chairman, had presented to the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee on the department’s $19.8 million budget request and on state water concerns, including issues and costs related to management of the Eastern Snake River Aquifer.
The aquifer sustains agriculture on the Snake River plain in southern Idaho and is thought to hold twice as much water as Lake Erie. The water agencies are addressing ways to better recharge the aquifer, which is consumed at a rate of 200,000 acre-feet of water per year.
Acknowledging he was relatively new to the subject, Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur D’Alene, asked why residents of northern Idaho might have a stake in helping to foot the bill for aquifer management.
“I know the question has been asked over time – is it the users’ responsibility or is it really a larger question for the state in general,” Spackman responded. “Although they may not be as significant, there are water issues in northern Idaho that really are important to the people there.”
Committee Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, noted that the aquifer “supports the economic viability of the state.” If the recharge issue is not resolved “you would have tremendous harm done to public schools, to everybody, without a stable aquifer,” Cameron said.
Chase added that fees paid by private water users cover a majority of the costs associated with aquifer maintenance and recharge.
Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-McCammon, asked about balancing water conservation with efforts to attract new business, and hence more people, to the state. "They appear to bea little contrary to each other," Guthrie said. “It certainly puts more pressure on a precious finite resource.”
Chase said the state should look at ways to tap into 2-3 million acre-feet of water that flows out of the state each year, along with improving recharge and storage efforts and promoting water reuse, conservation and other efficiencies.
“We can accommodate growth for a while but always there is that number that you hit that you go over,” Chase said. “We’re not there yet,” but the state needs to continue to press conservation, he said.