BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho water officials are poised to enforce an order directing farmers, dairy farms and businesses across 9,000 acres of southern Idaho to shut off groundwater wells starting Friday morning.
The Idaho Department of Water Resources issued a curtailment order last week targeting 250 water right holders in parts of seven counties.
Short of a last-minute deal or a judge's order, state water officials say they expect water users to shut down their wells Friday morning, marking the first time the state has followed through on an edict requiring the closure of wells that irrigate crops and supply cheese factories, cities and golf courses with water.
"The curtailment is on," department spokesman Bob McGlaughlin said. "We're basically hoping for compliance from as many water right holders as possible."
With the clock running out Thursday, lawyers for the groundwater pumpers are considering all options to avert the shutdown and the economic losses that could follow if crops dry up or businesses are forced to close or pay premium prices for replacement water.
Lynn Tominaga, executive director for the Idaho Groundwater Appropriators, said water rights holders affected by the order are being told to use their best judgment.
"Each individual is going to have to take a look and see how its going to affect their operation," Tominaga said Thursday.
The curtailment order stems from a water call filed in 2005 by Clear Springs Foods, which operates a trout farm near Hagerman. The company contends increased pumping in recent decades from the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer has decreased flows it is legally owed and gets from natural springs.
The company has senior water rights, and in Idaho, like many other western states, those with older claims trump the legal rights of those with junior claims.
The state initially issued its curtailment order in March, then pulled it back when the groundwater pumpers proposed a relief plan that included spending several million dollars to build a pipeline to deliver water to the trout farm.
The groundwater pumpers also vowed to irrigate 9,300 acres of crop land with surface water flowing through canals instead of groundwater, and taking hundreds more acres out of production.
But the trout farm objected to the pipeline, opting instead to wait for a court ruling on the dispute. Clear Springs and the groundwater pumpers then agreed in May to delay the pipeline.
The department changed course this month after learning that the groundwater pumpers had converted fewer than half of the 9,300 acres to surface water as promised in the deal. Interim director Gary Spackman issued the shutdown order July 22.
Most of the wells targeted to be turned off are used by irrigators, concentrated around the cities of Jerome and Wendell. The order also affects cities of Jerome, Wendell and Dietrich, but officials say those municipalities have older water rights to rely on.
It also affects the Jerome Country Club, Glanbia Foods Inc., a Jerome-based cheese producer, a chicken farm and greenhouse and other commercial users in portions of Blaine, Cassia, Gooding, Jerome, Lincoln, Minidoka and Twin Falls counties.
Agency officials say they intend to dispatch a crew of inspectors Friday morning to check compliance. Those found not following the order could be issued a cease and desist order and face civil sanctions, including fines up to $300 per each irrigated acre.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.