Big Wood River Flows
10/7/15- The Idaho Department of Water Resources has denied a water right application filed by Innovative Mitigation Solutions (IMS). The Big Wood sustains abundant fish and wildlife, and is a prized recreation destination both internationally and locally. The Big Wood, and its aquifers, also supply water to the communities Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey, and Bellevue, and to irrigators throughout the Wood River Valley. But unsustainable water use in the Valley has put the river at risk.
IMS’s proposal would have propped up unsustainable water use to the detriment of fish and wildlife and the Valley’s tourism economy. Instead of reducing consumption, IMS proposed to take more water out of the Big Wood and run it through canals, where some of the water would sink into the ground and might temporarily recharge the Valley’s depleted aquifers. IMS would have diverted the water during springtime, which would reduce flood flows important to maintaining a healthy Big Wood. IMS also planned to sell recharge credits that would have enabled water users to keep diverting water out of the Big Wood during its lowest flows periods, even when the river is below minimum streamflow levels critical to sustaining aquatic life.
Advocates for the West worked with the Idaho Conservation League opposing IMS’s application in a hearing before the Department. At the hearing, numerous community members–ranging from farmers, ranchers, fishing guides, elected officials, and riverside property owners–testified in opposition to IMS’s water grab. While the hearing officer denied the application on the narrow ground that IMS did not own of have permission to use all of the properties involved in the recharge project, the decision sends a strong message that the Department will not approve half-baked plans to divert more water out of our rivers in the name of “recharge”.
Advocates for the West is working with the Idaho Conservation League (ICL) to protect flows on Idaho’s famous Big Wood River from a private scheme to make money off of unsustainable water use. Innovative Mitigation Solutions (IMS) applied for a water right to divert 154 CFS of water out of the Big Wood and dump it on the ground where it might seep into the aquifer to be used later. IMS would then sell credits to water users up and down the Wood River Valley to allow new or continued water use when supplies are running low.
The Big Wood River and the aquifer below it are already over-tapped. IMS’s proposal would allow water users to perpetuate this problem and avoid reducing their water consumption.
IMS would divert water during high water flow periods in the spring. Flood flows are critical to maintaining healthy rivers. High flows flush the river system and create a wandering stream and braided channels, all of which are important to fish and wildlife on the Big Wood.
IMS would also sell its recharge credits during low flow periods. Low flow periods are critical for fish. Recognizing the importance of the Big Wood fishery, the State of Idaho has set minimum streamflows for the river. But, according to IMS, it can sell credits to allow upstream water users to keep using water, even if the minimum streamflow is not being met.
Marie Kellner of ICL and Advocates for the West Staff Attorney Bryan Hurlbutt represent ICL in this water right protest before the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR). IDWR held a hearing on June 8 and 9 – after ICL argued its case, numerous community members spoke up at the public hearing, all expressing their opposition to IMS’s proposal. See coverage of the hearing here: http://www.kmvt.com/news/latest/Controversial-Water-Right-Application-Would-Effect-The-Big-Wood-306862061.html
On July 1, Idaho Conservation League’s Water Associate, Marie Callaway Kellner, filed a post-hearing brief in this case with legal counsel provided by Bryan Hurlbutt.