Letters From the West

Cigarette tax bill would send money to recharge state aquifers

This map of the Treasure Valley water budget shows the data water experts use to plan water use for the future.

This map of the Treasure Valley water budget shows the data water experts use to plan water use for the future.

A bill was introduced Friday in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee that would send $5 million annually raised in cigarette taxes to the Water Resources Board for aquifer rehabilitation.

The bill diverts the cigarette taxes to many areas including roads but the aquifer money has Idaho water lawyers and lobbyists walking the halls of the Idaho Legislature this week pressing for funds that would be used to develop projects to recharge the eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer.

They hope eventually these projects to increase the aquifer, down after decades of drought, changes in ag practices that reduce natural recharge and the development of more than a million acres of farmland irrigated by groundwater pumped from the aquifer, which underlies most of southern Idaho from Yellowstone National Park to Kings Hill.

This will reduce, they hope disputes over water like a recent demand by a fish hatchery for water, a call authorities say could dry up 157,000 acres of croplands in the Magic Valley. Meanwhile Idaho Water Resources Director Gary Spackman placed a stay on his order issuing the call, until a hearing in March

But the cigarette tax funds also will be able to be used for aquifers statewide include the aquifer underlying the Treasure Valley.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West