BOISE • When four groundwater districts set out to purchase three fish farms, they knew it wasn’t going to be cheapest option.
The final price tag came in at $30 million. The loan the districts got from the Idaho Water Resource Board would take close to 20 years to pay off.
And yet, more than a year later since the deal was announced, the agreement is still considered monumental in finding a way to solve pending and future water calls.
The multimillion-dollar deal allowed the North Snake, Magic Valley, Bingham, and American Falls groundwater districts to purchase the water rights and facilities to Blue Lakes Trout, Rim View Trout and Clear Lakes Trout farms in the Thousand Springs area. Southwest Irrigation also bought into the deal after the transaction was completed.
“We think it’s the best option but it’s not a cheap one,” said Lynn Carlquist, chairman of the North Snake groundwater district.
Carlquist listed the details of the $30 million deal at the Idaho Water Users Association meeting last week. Included in the presentation were details on how much the deal cost and how much of the purchase each district owned, all of which were not previously released in prior discussions.
North Snake owns 35 percent of the fish farms, the most out of all the buyers. Magic Valley owns 25 percent, SWID owns 15, American Falls owns 10 percent and Bingham owns 5 percent.
The districts secured a $30 million bond from IWRB, Carlquist said. Half of the loan amount was distributed interest free while the other half came with a 4 to 5.2 interest rate to be paid over the next 20 years.
The three trout farms will continue to operate as usual but the ownership may change over time, Carlquist said.
“These facilities will continue to operate as normal,” he said. “But the details are still being discussed.”
Currently, the districts are leasing the Blue Lakes farm to Sea-Pac. However, it is still unknown what the pumpers will do with the Rim View Trout farm. The Idaho Department Fish and Game has expressed interest in purchasing the farm but nothing has been finalized, Carlquist said.
Buhl-based Clear Springs Foods Inc has since taken ownership of Clear Lakes as part of a mitigation settlement. However, the water rights Clear Springs purchased are under subordination to the groundwater districts, making it impossible for the company to issue a water call to the groundwater pumpers, Carlquist said.
Senior water user can file a delivery call with the Idaho Department of Water Resources if they feel a junior user is depriving them of their appropriated water. In Idaho’s water right system, water users with newer rights cannot infringe on a water user with an older right.
The completion of the purchase was meant to solve a cycle of water calls and mounting litigation issues that would have impacted water use across the region.
“We are still worried about how much water is in the aquifer,” Carlquist said. “But solving this battle allows us to further our efforts to recharging and conserving our water source.”