Scott Bedke

House Speaker Scott Bedke is seen at the Oakley Reservoir.

TWIN FALLS • 2015 was a big year for water; 2016 promises to be bigger.

Surface water- and groundwater-users alike went to bat last year to stop the decline of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.

Now it’s the Idaho Legislature’s turn.

The ESPA is over-allocated. That means more water is being drawn out of the aquifer than is going in.

But that’s been the case since the 1960s. And now the ESPA now has reached its lowest level since 1912.

Water managers agree that stabilizing and eventually increasing water levels through managed recharge is key to preventing water shortages — and future water delivery calls — that could threaten Idaho’s economy.

“We needed (managed recharge) 30 years ago,” Rep. Steve Miller told the Times-News in September. The Republican from Fairfield is a vocal proponent of setting aside state money to build the infrastructure for recharge.

“We only think about recharge when we have plentiful water supplies, but by then it’s too late,” Miller told a group of Magic Valley dairymen two years ago in Jerome. “The infrastructure has to be in place first before there can be recharge.”

Brian Olmstead, general manager of Twin Falls Canal Co., a member of the Surface Water Coalition (SWC), will be watching legislators closely this session.

Stabilizing the aquifer “will be painful and it will be expensive,” Olmstead said. “But, in our opinion, it is now or never.”

Last year, groundwater users represented by Idaho Ground Water Appropriators (IGWA) settled a 10-year-old water delivery call by the SWC and agreed to give up a whopping 13 percent of their water allotment — 250,000 acre-feet — per year to stabilize the ESPA.

Gary Spackman, director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources, said he doesn’t remember a more monumental water contract.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, a Republican rancher from Oakley, bartered the deal, which has many moving parts.

“It will take a commitment by the state of Idaho to take the steps necessary to bring the aquifer into balance,” Bedke said. “It’s the Legislature’s highest priority.”

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