SHOSHONE • Water levels at Magic Reservoir have officials concerned that there may not be enough for this year’s irrigation season.
That’s after the Big Wood Canal Co. released 40,000 acre-feet throughout November to allow for repairs to a leaky hydraulic oil line at the Magic Reservoir Hydroelectric plant.
The reservoir is currently refilling but concern over the repair project’s impacts is rising, said Carl Pendleton, chairman of Big Wood. Depending on the water suply, the amount that left the reservoir may not be needed or could mean lost crops for Big Wood customers.
“It could cost us $3 million if we need this 40,000 this year,” Pendleton said, citing an estimate of the impact on farming. “But if we don’t need it, then this whole project will cost us nothing.”
Court documents show Big Wood sought to delay the release until the following year, but Magic Reservoir Hydroelectric argued it could no longer wait. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was threatening the hydraulic company with fines of $32,250 per day if the leak was not fixed.
Following a petition filed by the hydroelectric company, a judge eventually ordered Big Wood to release enough water to make the repairs.
Right before that first release, the reservoir’s water levels were close to 54,000 acre-feet. As of Thursday, the water level was about 18,000 acre-feet, well below its maximum capacity of 191,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot is enough water to cover one acre with one foot of water.
Big Wood received the court order to release the water in late October. An initial release of 20,000 acre-feet wasn’t enough, and the canal company had to release the additional 20,000 acre-feet to make the repairs possible.
“We thought the first time would get us to where they could make repairs without releasing any more,” Pendleton said. “But it didn’t.”
The repairs haven’t harmed this winter’s ice fishing, locals previously told the Times-News. But the excess water flushing out of the reservoir could affect future fishing opportunities, said Scott Boettger, executive director of the Wood River Valley Land Trust.
When mass amounts of water are released all at once, it pushes fish downstream and gives little time for the fish to return to their original home, he said.
“The fish population is going to be less than it has been in the past years,” Boettger said. “It’s grown some tremendously big fish. When they flush that water, it expands their range but they don’t always come back.”
Now the canal company is waiting to see what kind of water this winter will provide. Pendleton said the area’s snowfall so far has been 130 to 160 percent of average, but snowpack levels are dropping every day.
“We’ve had history of being totally dry, and then last year we were at 114,000 acre-feet. We would have had 60,000-plus today if we hadn’t released,” Pendleton said. “It’s not the best situation to be in, but it’s farming.”