BOISE — The Idaho Department of Water Resources has approved an application for Elmore County to pump out of Anderson Ranch Reservoir to replenish its aquifer.
The approval, issued Tuesday, comes with 28 conditions that Elmore County must meet, ranging from respecting existing water rights to monitoring flows on the Boise River.
“It’s just the first really essential step to move forward,” Scott Campbell, a Boise attorney who represented Elmore County during the proceeding.
The approval is a preliminary approval. Opponents will have time to submit petitions challenging the decision. If a final approval is issued, opponents have the option to take the issue to a state court.
Overall, Campbell said he’s happy with the outcome.
“It has been a very hard-fought proceeding with legitimate questions on both sides,” he said.
Opponents to the water transfer, including environmentalists, state and Boise city officials, argued that taking flows from the Boise River Basin could lower the river level and have adverse effects on wildlife and fisheries, which is a large economic driver.
Campbell said he expects opponents to appeal Tuesday’s decision.
Elmore County still needs to obtain a permit from IDWR to pump the water, which is separate from the water right approval. Elmore County will also have to obtain permits from the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service, as both agencies own land that the pump and pipeline will touch, he said.
IDWR Water Rights Permit Manager Shelley Keen previously told the Idaho Press that this would likely be the largest, and potentially first, basin transfer of water. Keen said he was unaware of any other such transfer on record, but it’s possible one exists.
Because no case law existed, hearing officials had to rely solely on Idaho law, which provided that the permit only be denied if it was proven that the water right would adversely impact the economy.
Campbell told the Idaho Press Tuesday that Elmore County’s aquifer was depleting at roughly 42,000 acre feet per year. The water right will allow Elmore County to transfer 10,000 acre feet per year from the Anderson Ranch Reservoir to the Little Camas Reservoir in Elmore County.
There are limitations on when Elmore County will be able to pump from the reservoir, depending on the flows of the Boise River. If the river drops below 240 cubic feet per second at the Middleton Gage between June 16 and Feb. 29, Elmore County can’t pump into its reservoir. Similarly, if the river drops below 1,100 CFS between March 1 and May 31, no water should be transferred.
Marie Callaway Kellner, an attorney at the Idaho Conservation League, expressed disappointment in Tuesday’s decision, saying the conditions don’t do enough to protect the Boise River’s flood flows, which help maintain the fishery on the river.
This action, she said, sets a dangerous precedent. It also concerns her that water is being taken from one of the fastest-growing areas in the country and is moving it to an area where the population is relatively stagnant.
Opposing parties have 14 days to file a petition for reconsideration, which Callaway Kellner said she believes will happen from at least some of the opposing parties.