Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal to put $20 million aside for aquifer monitoring and planning, fits into his theme this year of maintaining and upgrading the state’s infrastructure.
Without the highly complex scientific models that the University of Idaho and others have developed to show how water moves through the system, managers can’t defend the tough decisions they have to make. The Eastern Snake Plain model, which has been improved constantly since first developed in the 1970s, now has enough credibility that groundwater users and surface water users have at least a starting point from which to debate ownership.
Wayne Hammon, the administrator of the Division of Financial Management, used the example of the Mountain Home aquifer, which has shown signs it doesn’t have enough water to handle the growth in that area. The state needs a credible model of the aquifer to determine the supply is adequate or short.
“The Air Force is very concerned about the reliability of that aquifer,” Hammon said.
The same is true on the Rathdrum Prairie up north, an aquifer that crosses the border into Washington and is hydrologically connected to the Spokane River.
“You can’t administer what you don’t understand,” said Sen. Chuck Coiner, R-Twin Falls.
On another note, Otter didn’t put the study of rebuilding the Teton Dam or other potential storage sites in his budget as I had suggested might happen. For one thing, the Idaho Department of Water Resources didn’t get the proposal to him soon enough.
Still, Otter, placing the monitoring and planning at a higher priority, might find that the storage studies don’t immediately get results. The cost of rebuilding Teton Dam or building Galloway Dam on the Weiser River has been too high in the past for the federal government to push.
“I don’t think it's there at the moment,” Coiner said. “We don’t have any state dollars to afford that.”
But Republican Rep. Dell Raybould, of Rexburg a supporter of the first Teton Dam, has never given up hope the dam would be rebuilt. He and other lawmakers might try to get some funding for initial studies.
“We cannot afford to waste any of Idaho’s water and let it go out of state,” Raybould said.