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Idaho Water Rights Likely to Create Conflict Between Irrigation and Municipal Needs

In Hailey, Idaho, looming changes to the state’s water rights administration may make city wells vulnerable to downstream irrigators.  Hailey relies on three sources for its municipal water supply: Hiawatha Canal, Indian Creek Springs, and seven local wells.  A change to conjunctive water rights management, which is likely to be enacted within five years, may lead to the wells being shut down during a drought year by canal company irrigators to the south with senior water rights.

City officials have long been wary of changes to Idaho’s current water policies, which manage surface water and groundwater separately.  Under conjunctive management, surface water and groundwater are managed together with regard to irrigation and well-pumping rights, respectively.  In turn, a surface water user with senior water rights takes priority over a well user if the well water is used for “consumptive uses” such as watering lawns.

While Hailey’s canal and springs water rights date from the 1880s, the wells only have priority dates from the 1960s, which are junior to some downstream irrigators.  Municipal leaders are already considering legal options to surmount this vulnerability, which is of particular concern for residents using the wells farthest from the Big Wood River.  If you need an experienced engineer to appear as an expert witness on water rights, contact Engineering Expert Witnesses today for a free initial consultation.

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