In a win for all Idaho rivers, the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) denied a proposal that sought to privatize some Big Wood River flows near Hailey and Bellevue.

ICL actively protested the application of former IDWR director David Tuthill, who proposed to divert Big Wood water, let it seep into the ground as aquifer recharge, and then sell the recharged water as credits to junior (meaning newer) water right holders.

Competing Water Rights

Water rights are managed in priority by the date issued, so that the older your water right the more secure it is in times of water shortage. Idaho historically issued more water rights to aquifers than there currently is groundwater available, and now state water managers and water users are scrambling to try and find a way forward in an uncertain water future.

Aquifer recharge takes water from rivers and puts it into the ground. It is touted by some as the only solution to water uncertainty-despite the fact that it dewaters rivers, creating a new set of problems.

While aquifer recharge may be an aspect of securing Idaho’s water
future, this proposal went well beyond simply recharging the aquifer. This proposal sought to divert and recharge water during early spring runoff; then, later in the year,   during times of water shortage when junior water right holders might be “turned off,” they could buy recharge credits in order to keep using their normal water rights.

Setting Precedents

Had he been successful, the recharge credit scheme would have been a
first in Idaho, creating a new way to legally dewater Idaho’s rivers and privatizing water in a way it currently is not.

ICL strongly challenged the proposal and we are very pleased with the outcome. It’s great for the Big Wood River, as well as the fish habitat, water quality and river ecology that depend on the high flows this proposal sought to divert. Furthermore, this is a good outcome for all Idaho rivers, sending a message that the kind of shell game proposed here isn’t acceptable.