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BOISE • The Department of Water Resources presented an accelerated schedule of Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer recharge projects and projections of how much money they’ll need to accomplish it to the Legislature’s budget committee Wednesday.

The department projects it will spend $3.7 million on the projects underway this budget year, winter flow protection in the Milner-Gooding Canal, recharge improvements to the Great Feeder Canal and a new Egin Bench recharge canal, Director Gary Spackman told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

Spackman projects needing $7.8 million in 2016-2017 and $10.2 million in 2018 for recharge projects related to the aquifer, with much of the spending related to canal improvements and recharge sites.

Projected spending would fall after that, from $8 million in 2019 to $6.8 million in 2021, Spackman said. The recharge projects are related to implementation of last year’s deal between the Eastern Snake’s surface- and groundwater users, part of which was a commitment to increase aquifer recharge by 250,000 acre-feet per year. Costs would drop to less than $4 million a year for operation and maintenance after that, according to Spackman’s projections.

Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is asking for a big bump in aquifer recharge funding for the 2016-2017 budget year, including $16.5 million in one-time funding. If lawmakers commit the $5 million a year in ongoing funding Otter has called for, Spackman said, there would be enough to keep to the schedule with $100,000 left at the end of the 2020-2021 budget year.

Spackman’s presentation went over the department’s entire budget, including aquifer issues in other parts of the state, but Water Resources Board Chairman Roger Chase said there is an emphasis on the Eastern Snake.

“The reason for that is we’ve created a crisis out there,” he said, adding that the aquifer’s levels in 2015 fell below minimum flows for the first time ever.

Curtailments, he said, could have dried up 157,000 acres of farmland and impacted a third of Idaho’s economy.

The department’s use of existing unlined irrigation canals for recharge helps to keep costs down, Chase said. It would take years, he said, if DWR had to build its own canals.

“We’re really proud of that,” he said. “It’s a simple solution.”

It remains to be seen whether the Legislature will go along with Otter’s budget suggestion. Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, who is on JFAC and helped broker last year’s water deal, said there has been talk of other funding proposals for water recharge that wouldn’t take so much money from the general fund.

“I think there’s a better avenue than what you presented here today,” he said.

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