Letters From the West

Water agencies measuring Idaho’s huge Snake River Plain aquifer

For the next two weeks the U.S. Geological Survey and the Idaho Department of Water Resources, will measure groundwater levels in more than 1,300 private and public wells throughout southern Idaho’s eastern Snake River Plain.
The Lake Erie-sized eastern Snake River Plain aquifer, which runs from Ashton to King Hill, has an estimated volume of 200 billion cubic feet of water, which is why even in a low water year like this Idaho has more water than most of the West. Its southern Idaho’s chief source of drinking water and provides irrigation for one million acres of farmland. Did I mention the aquaculture industry that depends on springs that run out of the aquifer and as you might remember led to a legal fight over the water that was only recently largely resolved?
The data collected helps water resources managers keep tabs on the aquifer and to gauge how well their conservation efforts are working.
Water Resources also uses the information to improve its computer model of the aquifer. The agencies last measured aquifer water levels in 2002 and 2008, and plan to continue the mass measurements every five years.
“The mass measurement is like taking a snapshot of the current state of the aquifer,” said Water Resources Hydrology Section Manager Sean Vincent. “The USGS and IDWR would greatly appreciate well owners’ cooperation in the study by granting them access to their wells.”

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