Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Groundwater meter deadline

IDWR reminds groundwater pumpers of April 1 deadline for installing groundwater meters

BOISE – The Idaho Department of Water Resources is reminding farmers who use groundwater for irrigation in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer region that they must install department-approved flow meters prior to the beginning of the 2018 irrigation season, which typically commences on April 1.

Groundwater pumpers who fail to comply will have their water supply shut off until they install the flow meters.

“We’re giving them a head’s up that the department will be forced to curtail water use for those who don’t comply at the start of irrigation season,” IDWR Deputy Director Mathew Weaver said.

About 60 percent of the farmers who irrigate with groundwater have complied so far, according to IDWR records, with less than 45 days to go before the compliance deadline. About 5,400 groundwater wells in the ESPA region are subject to the requirement. Domestic and stock water wells and small irrigation wells servicing less than five acres are exempt.

IDWR officials encourage farmers to notify their groundwater districts that they have complied with the order to ensure compliance records are accurate.

A number of groundwater districts have grant funds available to help farmers with the cost of installing the meters, said Lynn Tominaga, executive director of the Idaho Ground Water Appropriators.

“We’ve been working hard to obtain grant funds to help farmers with the expense of installing flow meters in a timely manner, and we’ve got about $2.8 million available,” Tominaga said. “Farmers should contact their groundwater districts to learn how to apply, and do it quickly.”

Groundwater users can file a variance request if they qualify.

“To give the department time to process them, all variance requests should be filed with the IDWR state office by March 1,” Weaver said. Here is a web link to a variance request form and more information about eligibility requirements for variances.

IDWR Director Gary Spackman issued an order on July 20, 2016, requiring the installation of department-approved flow meters for all qualifying groundwater users in the ESPA region by the start of the 2018 irrigation season. In addition, the historic water settlement agreement forged by the Surface Water Coalition and IGWA in 2015 specifically require groundwater pumpers to install flow meters.

The Director’s order required non-irrigation groundwater users such as cities, manufacturing plants, dairies and others to install approved flow meters by January 1, 2018. According to IDWR records, more than 50 percent of those users complied.

The purpose of the director’s order is to provide the most accurate information to IDWR and groundwater districts about groundwater consumption in the ESPA region. The ESPA has been over-drafted by about 200,000 acre-feet per year since the 1950s. The meters also will help IGWA and groundwater districts track groundwater use reductions as required in the water settlement agreement.

Besides curtailment of their water supply, groundwater users failing to comply with the director’s order also could face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation.

“We are hoping that our efforts to inform groundwater users about the compliance deadlines will minimize the number of curtailments,” Weaver said. “We see water shut-offs and a Notice of Violation as a last resort. But we will not be soft on enforcement has given approximately 60 percent of the affected water users have complied with our order and have already purchased and installed measurement devices. We want to be clear that this is a mandatory requirement.”

Affected groundwater users can reach out to IDWR staff, local water districts or groundwater districts officials to receive assistance with technical questions associated with flow meter installation. The water district and IDWR staff will be conducting flow meter inspections through March. Inspections will increase on April 1, officials said.

If water users have questions about the water meter installations, contact Brian Ragan, 208-287-4800 or info@idwr.idaho.gov.

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