April 14th , 2016
BOISE — It’s not cliche to say water is the lifeblood of Idaho. And nowhere in the state is that more true than in the high-desert, highly-populated region of the Treasure Valley. It’s a commodity that is counted on daily, especially as we get into the summer months.
As we keep a constant eye on the snowpack each year to determine the availability of our most valuable resource, a recent study has taken a look at the future of what our demand may look like.
According to a 2010 U.S. Geological Survey study, there are only two states that use more water than Idaho – California and Texas. But no state uses more water than Idaho on a per capita basis, about 168 gallons per day.
Up to now, our mountain melt-off has provided what we needed, give or take a few drought years. Fifty years from now, however, that likely won’t be enough.
The population of the Treasure Valley has more than doubled in the last 25 years, swelling to more than 600,000 people. While communities can keep building to keep up with growth our greatest resource may not be able to keep up with the flow.
“Our economy depends on water in this state,” said Brian Patton, chief of the planning bureau for the Idaho Water Resource Board.
Our survival depends on it as well. So the IWRB wanted to find out what we may need when it comes to water over the next five decades. They hired SPF Water Engineering, LLC to come up with a number. The amount the consulting firm came back with was staggering.
“The numbers were a little higher than I had expected,” admitted Patton.
Patton said, based on population projections in 2065 that put the Treasure Valley at 1.5 million people, water usage could escalate more than 350 percent from today’s total.
Between domestic, commercial, municipal, and industrial irrigation during the summer months, our current rate is about 36 million gallons per year, or 110,000 acre feet of water.
Explained Patton, “Well, it’d be 110,000 football fields covered one foot deep in water.”
Fifty years from now, that number increases to nearly 400,000 football fields, or 130 million gallons per year.
Right now, southern Idaho’s snowpack provides what we need. But that contribution will likely decline based on climate change. So bridging the gap is a conversation that needs to be started now.
Patton says a couple of solutions are already being considered. One, tap the Treasure Valley aquifer. Two, expand the reservoir system, something that could take decades and unforeseen dollars.
Either way, conservation and recycling will play a bigger part in the local water cycle. That concept is preached daily at the Boise Watershed. This facility handles about 20 million gallons of wastewater a day. It’s filtered and cleaned and sent back out to the Boise River, accounting for half of the river’s water flow in the winter.
Currently only Meridian reuses their wastewater for irrigation. Boise does not. And there aren’t plans to do so anytime soon because water is still plentiful. These future projections, however, may change that perception.
“That makes me think that all of us have to work together and do our part,” said Cindy Busche, education coordinator for the Boise Watershed. “We have to conserve water in our homes, on our land. We’re going to have to think about where the water goes after we use it and how it can be reused again.”
The IWRB has already started looking at expanding Arrowrock Reservoir with the Army Corps of Engineers and should have results of that study before the end of this year.
What about recycling water for consumption?
Busche says, besides the cost, the biggest hurdle may be public perception.
Copyright 2016 KTVB