Groups Challenge Eastern Idaho Groundwater Area Designation

Jan 9, 2017

Most of the aquifer water coming out of the rock at Thousand Springs is captured first by a power plant or a fish hatchery before the water ends up here, in the Snake River.
Credit Samantha Wright/Boise State Public Radio

Legal challenges have been filed against Idaho officials over a groundwater management area created in November.

A number of organizations including the city of Pocatello, the Coalition of Cities — a collection of 14 Magic Valley communities — and McCain Foods have submitted petitions for the Idaho Department of Water Resources to reconsider its management area order, The Post Register reported. Other petitioners include the Sun Valley Company, Ground Water Appropriators, the Surface Water Coalition and the South Valley Ground Water District.

The groups are challenging IDWR Director Gary Spackman's recent order creating the state's largest groundwater management area, which covers the East Snake Plain Aquifer from Jerome and Burley to Dubois and St. Anthony.

Spackman said the new management area will help encourage conservation measures in the already taxed aquifer but opponents worry about their water rights under the new arrangement.

The petition groups must go through an administrative hearing process before formal lawsuits can be filed. IDWR Deputy Director Mathew Weaver said a pre-hearing conference is scheduled next week in Boise.

Later, a formal hearing, overseen by Spackman, will be scheduled. That hearing will include attorneys representing the parties contesting the management area, as well as witnesses and technical experts, much like a formal trial, Weaver said.

Spackman will determine whether to grant or deny the petition to reconsider the management area within two months. If the petition is denied, the new management area will be left untouched and the parties could appeal to the Snake River Basin Adjudication District Court, which serves as Idaho's water court in Twin Falls.

Weaver said he felt the department has "pretty compelling evidence" to justify its creation of the new groundwater management area. He said he was confident it would remain in place.