May 24th , 2013
Decision by IDWR allows water rights transfers
By GREG MOORE | Express Staff Writer
The state of Idaho has declared a drought emergency in Blaine County, allowing irrigators to temporarily transfer water rights with each other.
To date this irrigation season, drought emergencies have also been declared in Butte, Lincoln and Fremont counties.
The Idaho Department of Water Resources granted the declaration on May 14 at the request of Blaine County commissioners.
“[D]rainages in and around Blaine County are experiencing abnormally dry conditions due to below normal precipitation and snowpack levels,” the commissioners’ application states. “Local water district watermasters are reporting that water-right priority cuts are currently ahead of schedule or anticipated to be well ahead of schedule during the coming irrigation season.”
The application states that as of May 9, the snow-water equivalent was at 80 percent of normal in the Big Wood Basin and only 37 percent of normal in the Little Wood Basin.
Allen Merritt, manager for the Department of Water Resources’ Southern Region, said water rights transfers are normally permanent and require a cumbersome process. He said irrigators likely to take advantage of the temporary right to transfer are those who deem one person’s crop to be more valuable than another’s.
“It just gives them a temporary quick fix,” he said. “It doesn’t allow for development of new diversions or drilling of new wells.”
Merritt said the number of irrigators in Blaine County who will probably conduct such transfers number “in the tens, not in the hundreds.”
The declaration is in effect through the end of 2013.
Blaine County has obtained a drought declaration in six of the past 10 years.