President’s 2018 Letter and Recap

December 21, 2018

Oregon Water Coalition Members:

The Oregon Water Coalition (OWC) was founded 25 years ago with the mission of promoting "the responsible development, conservation, and utilization of water in northeastern Oregon". This mission drove OWC to be an active force in facilitating the spread of information, most notably through annual meetings that bring local water users together to learn from experts in the field. Information can also be found on our website and social media.

Since OWC was formed, other organizations with similar missions have emerged in the region. The SAGE Center is now an accessible source of agriculture information for locals and visitors. The Northeast Oregon Water Association (NOWA) is working on behalf of local irrigators to pioneer innovative water solutions for the region. The Hermiston Chamber of Commerce actively supports its members, including a large number of agriculture­ related businesses. Blue Mountain Community College (BMCC) boasts a state-of-the-art teaching facility on the OSU Extension HAREC campus to train the next generation in precision irrigation. The Eastern Oregon Women's Coalition (EOWC) fosters conversations about the rural-urban divide by providing tours and educational connections across the state.

For the past few years, there have been many conversations about the specific purpose of owe and how it can remain relevant 25 years after its founding. The organization was reinvigorated when it hired a coordinator, Marika Sitz, to run day-to-day operations and expand educational efforts. In 2018, owe introduced two water rights workshops, established an online newsletter and worked with various partner organizations on outreach­ related projects for the Umatilla Basin. The added bonus for Marika and the region is that the coordinator role provided a foundation that will inform her law school studies. The coordinator position has remained open since Marika left for law school in August, 2018.

Today, with a renewed mission and higher level of activity, owe remains dependent upon grants and other donations. owe recognizes that many of its members and supporters contribute to other organizations. OWC does not want to compete with other worthy organizations, however, owe seeks to preserve the legacy of its educational and outreach in water and agriculture.

To sustain funding, owe once again is requesting that members renew and donate additional funds as they are able. Those funds will continue to be used for operations and also as seed money to fund a scholarship for young professionals like Marika who enter graduate programs that will train them to represent water interests of our region. The goal of the scholarship fund is to incentivize the next generation of lawyers, policy makers, and researchers to live and work in Eastern Oregon. OWC has taken several steps to ensure the spirit of the organization can thrive. We remain committed to providing educational opportunities about water issues. We want to say than you and we appreciate your renewed membership and your continued support.


Ray Kopacz, OWC President

Letter from our former Coordinator and current scholarship recipient

After spending one and a half years as coordinator of the Oregon Water Coalition, I began law school at the University of Oregon School of Law this past August. As I write this, I am one week away from completing my first semester. I considered attending law school for many years, and I am very fortunate to have OWC's support as I work toward my goal of becoming an attorney.

I became the coordinator of OWC in January 2017, about a year and a half after graduating from Stanford University with an undergraduate degree in Human Biology. I still wasn't exactly sure what I wanted to do at that point, but my interest in the American West-particularly the water and agricultural aspects-drove much of my work. I was born and raised in Pendleton, and I jumped at the opportunity to return to my home region to join OWC. My goal was to gain more "on-the­ ground" experience to inform my decision about pursing water and natural resources law. My experience proved to be immensely valuable, and my time at OWC played a critically important role in shaping my understanding of water and natural resource issues in northeastern Oregon.

For the past four months, I have been taking the full slate of required core classes for first year law students. In addition, I am also a fellow for the Oceans, Coasts and Watersheds Project, which is housed in the Environmental and Natural Resources Center at the law school. This fellowship has proven to be a good opportunity to remain connected to my water interest. I also think it provides an important chance to share my own perspectives and experiences with my project group. Some of my preliminary projects have included compiling statutory and program information for OWRD' s Place-Based Planning Program and organizing conference panels to present diverse perspectives on water and agriculture issue in Oregon.

My purpose in writing this note is to provide an update and also to briefly illustrate how my time at OWC helped shape my path. OWC gave me the opportunity to broaden my understanding of the practice area I am interested in pursuing. Additionally, it continues to support my goals with the award of a multi-year scholarship, which offsets a portion of my tuition costs each semester. I owe a huge measure of gratitude to the Oregon Water Coalition for supporting my educational journey in two settings: "on the ground" as coordinator of OWC and my current academic undertaking.

Finally, I would like to note the great potential of this arrangement to support future leaders in Umatilla Basin in northeastern Oregon. I think young attorneys, administrators, or policy makers who want to return to Eastern Oregon can also benefit from an arrangement like mine. I think rural Oregon has a great deal to offer, and the ability of OWC to further incentivize future leaders to work in the region will help ensure that talented individuals with an interest in agriculture, water, and natural resources management return to and stay on the eastern side of the state.

Marika Sitz

2019 Annual Meeting

OWC will hold its Annual Meeting on January 15th. Speakers include J.R. Cook and Craig Reeder, the director and chair of the Northeast Oregon Water Association, respectively, Karen Lewotsky of the Oregon Environmental Council, and April Snell of the Oregon Water Resources Congress. RSVP now at!

OWC Annual Docs_Page_1.jpg

2018 Annual Meeting Recap

The Oregon Water Coalition marked its 2018 Annual Meeting with a new venue and record attendance. Traditionally hosted at the Hermiston Conference Center, this year's meeting took up residence in the new Precision Irrigated Agriculture building at the Hermiston Agricultural & Research Extension Center. Around sixty people packed into the conference room to socialize, listen to speakers, and enjoy breakfast and refreshments donated by Desert Springs Bottled Water Co. The meeting doubled as B2B event through a partnership with the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce. 

OWC president Ray Kopacz opened the meeting by providing updates from the past year and by reaffirming the Board of Directors and officers with a vote. His remarks included thank-yous to OWC partners and sponsors, namely OWC members, Desert Springs Bottled Water Co, the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce, Umatilla Electric Co-op, and the Northeast Oregon Water Association. After Ray's welcome, Phil Hamm, director of HAREC, took a few minutes to explain an upcoming ballot measure that would create extension service districts in Umatilla and Morrow Counties. The measure, up for a vote in May, aims to provide a stable source of funding for extension services in the each county. 

The first set of presentations for the morning consisted of updates from around the region. Miff Devin, Water Quality Supervisor at the Port of Morrow(POM), provided an overview of the recharge project and nitrate monitoring and dilution projects at POM.  Byron Smith, City Manager of Hermiston, walked attendees through a recent history of the city's wastewater treatment plant and partnership with West Extension Irrigation District to deliver treated water to their canal during the winter.  Russ Pelleberg, City Manager of Umatilla, discussed efforts by Umatilla to develop a similar partnership. However, the source this time is water that is being utilized by the growing number of data centers in the area. Treated water could then be added to the West Extension canal. These two topics were covered in more detail by the East Oregonian in an article that also appeared in the Capital Press and on Oregon Public Broadcasting's website. 

Following these updates, JR Cook, Director of the Northeast Oregon Water Association (NOWA), provided updates about two ongoing NOWA projects. The first undertaking he highlighted was an economic impact study focused on the Mid-Columbia Basin, which will be funded by the Oregon Business Council and executed by the ECONorthwest. The study will focus the economic value of water for the counties contained in the Mid-Columbia region and lay the groundwork for identifying feasible partnership opportunities among Umatilla, Morrow, Union, Wallowa, and Baker Counties. The study will be similar in scope to one recently completed in the Yakima Basin. As the project is in its preliminary stages, a critical component will be continued dialogue with stakeholders. The study will reinforce NOWA's goal of identifying mitigation opportunities for Columbia River water rights through equitable partnerships across northeastern Oregon. The final portion of Cook's presentation focused on a more localized effort: establishing a system to safeguard and recover aquifer levels in the Umatilla Basin's Critical Groundwater Areas. NOWA would like to see the development of a "basalt bank" that would take pressures off the groundwater. As cities continue to grow--largely due to the economic opportunity brought about by agriculture--they will necessarily be competing with the farming industry that sustains them. NOWA's plan envisions a kind of trust account that could lease Columbia River water to agricultural users at a cost comparable to the cost of pumping groundwater. This would allow some users to reduce or eliminate groundwater pumping, thereby giving basalt aquifers the chance to recover over time. Development of such a program presents a variety of hurdles, and as a preliminary step, NOWA would like to establish a Basalt Bank Task Force to help develop rules and practices for a successful system. NOWA is seeking support from the Governor's Office to create the task force. Find a general overview of the project here. 

Attorney Laura Schroeder of Schroeder Law Offices led the final two hours of the conference. Schroeder specializes in water law, and her presentation outlined the basics of Oregon water law. Additionally, it touched on information relevant to Columbia River water rights and critical groundwater areas, both important topics in the Umatilla Basin. You can find water law education resources on Schroeder Law Offices' website. If you would like to learn more about basic water rights terminology, the Oregon Water Coalition will hold another water rights workshop led by the Oregon Water Resources Department on Tuesday, February 27. You can find more information here.

The Oregon Water Coalition would like to thank its members and all conference attendees for their support and attendance. 

End of the Year Recap

OWC's work in 2017

In the past 10 months, the Oregon Water Coalition has completed multiple projects aimed at supporting water and agriculture education efforts in the Umatilla Basin and in northeastern Oregon. In May, OWC held its annual membership meeting featuring local and state experts. A recap of this event can be found here. During the first part of the year, updates to the website including adding facts about regional agriculture and cataloging water-related legislation, with the inclusion of some limited, original reporting as well. The fact sheets were assembled in collaboration with the SAGE Center, and OWC hopes to continue to work with SAGE in 2018. Accompanying the website was the re-launch of a monthly newsletter, offered in an email format only. OWC will continue to produce this e-newsletter and solicit ideas for content that will make the letter helpful. 

In June, OWC began a partnership with Umatilla Electric Cooperative. UEC currently provides monthly support to allow the organization to retain a full time coordinator. The first tangible product from this partnership was produced in November with the publication of an article written by OWC's coordinator and featured in The Ruralite and on Northeast Oregon NOW. You can read that article here. Stay tuned for more articles about relevant water and agriculture topics in the future. 

As part of its education mission, the OWC coordinator has been working to assemble a number of informational documents focused on outlining various topics of interest, as identified by board members or submitted as special requests. Topics include Basin history, water delivery explanations, and details about changes in irrigation districts in recent decades. Research will be distilled into fact sheets and made available on OWC's website soon. 

Finally, OWC has partnered with the Eastern Oregon Women's Coalition and the Northeast Oregon Water Association to work on a multi-county partnership effort. The aim of this partnership--focused on Union, Wallowa, Baker, Umatilla, and Morrow counties--is to identify opportunities presented by water storage and dam upgrade projects as mitigation sources for the Mid-Columbia Targeted Investment and Mitigation Effort. Work on this will continue in the spring of 2018 with a two day tour of water projects in Union, Wallowa, and Baker for state legislators and project partners. The Oregon Business Council and Oregon Association of Counties are also supporting this project. 


changes in 2017

In the past year, OWC has undergone a few significant changes. In January, the Coalition hired its first ever full time coordinator (more here). With the introduction of this position, the Coalition has more bandwidth to partner with other local organizations and to produce independent research on regional systems and issues for educational purposes. 

Another large transition took place in October, when the Oregon Water Coalition welcomed three new members to its Board of Directors and bid farewell to two directors with a long history of involvement. OWC would like to sincerely thank Bill Porfily and Mike Wick, both on the board of directors since 2000, for their excellent service and dedication to the organization over the past years. OWC is excited to welcome three new directors: Scott Lukas, Tamra Mabbott, and Debbie Pedro. Ray Kopacz has assumed the role of President in place of Bill Porfily. Gibb Evans was elected Vice-President, and JR Cook remains in the role of Secretary-Treasurer.  

Debbie Pedro is the President of the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce. The Hermiston Chamber is a longtime supporter of OWC. Tamra Mabbott recently took the role of Community Development Director for the City of Umatilla after serving as planning director of Umatilla County for 15 years. Scott Lukas accepted a research role at the Hermiston Agricultural & Research Extension Center in September 2016. He is an assistant professor of horticulture in the OSU Integrated Cropping System Program. Each brings a valuable perspective to the organization and will play an important role in driving outreach and education efforts forward, and OWC is pleased to have the opportunity to broaden and diversify its board. 


In the new year

With these changes in place, we look forward to a very successful 2018. The year will kick off with an annual meeting on January 23 from 8am-12pm at the Hermiston Conference Center. The half-day event will feature updates on local water issues as well as a two hour "water rights bootcamp" led by attorney Laura A Schroeder of Schroeder Law Offices. Agenda details and an RSVP form will be made available soon, but you can visit our events page for the most recent updates. Beyond this meeting, we anticipate continuing many of the projects and partnerships that were begun this year. 

OWC Expresses Its Thanks

A view of the Columbia River

A view of the Columbia River

As we enter the holiday season, OWC would like to take this chance to thank all those who have helped make the organization's work possible. 


Thank you to our supporters.

As OWC continues to build on its 25 year history, we are fortunate to have fantastic partners throughout the Umatilla Basin and beyond. Partners who help support OWC or have collaborated with us in 2017 include the Northeast Oregon Water Association, Umatilla Electric Cooperative, the Eastern Oregon Women's Coalition, the Oregon Environmental Council, and the SAGE Center. 


Thank you to our members.

OWC is fortunate to have a strong membership base. Contributions from our members have enabled the organization to sustain its education and outreach efforts in the Umatilla Basin. 


Thank you to Bill Porfily and Mike Wick for their time on the OWC Board. 

In October, the Water Coalition said goodbye to Bill Porfily and Mike Wick and welcomed three new faces. Both Bill and Mike had been on the board since 2000, and their 17 years of guidance and service to OWC cannot be underestimated. 


Thank you to all those who have contributed time to advance OWC's mission.

Over the past year, a number of individuals have lent insight and provided guidance to the OWC coordinator, Marika Sitz. As OWC strives to advance education about water and agriculture issues in the Basin, this sharing of knowledge is critical and greatly appreciated.  



Columbia River Policy Advisory Group Meeting Recap

Note from the Office of Columbia River (OCR), Washington Department of Ecology: 

The Columbia River Policy Advisory Group helps [the Department of] Ecology identify policy issues associated with implementing a new water resource management program for the Columbia River, provides Ecology with a range of perspectives on policy choices and priorities and assists Ecology in setting criteria for funding of storage and conservation projects.

On June 1, the Columbia River Policy Advisory Group, which provides guidance and perspective to Washington's Office of Columbia River, met in Ellensburg, WA. The agenda featured three presentations touching on a variety of topics.  Below is a summary of each presentation. For more details, and complete copies of the agenda and presentations, please visit the CRPAG website


Update on the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program (OGWRP)

Melissa Downes, OCR and Craig Simpson, East Columbia Basin Irrigation District

Melissa opened the meeting by giving an overview of the Odessa Groundwater Replacement Program and the history of the Odessa subarea. The replacement program has its roots in the Columbia River Initiative, an effort that began in 2001. In 2004, the Columbia River Initiative MOU was signed, and in February 2006, the Office of Columbia River was founded. Under the MOU, a number of projects and frameworks were identified, including Odessa. The Odessa Subarea basalt aquifers have seen up to 200 feet of decline in some areas due to groundwater pumping. Groundwater pumping in the Odessa area currently supplies water for 170,000 acres. Most permits for these pumps were issued in the 1950’s with the understanding that they were a temporary right that would be replaced by surface water supplied by the federally funded Columbia River Project. 680,000 acres of the 1,029,000 acres authorized by the Project are being served, but it has not been fully developed to date, necessitating the continued pumping of groundwater in Odessa. The final EIS for the Odessa subarea was completed in 2012, and it introduced a plan that would maximized the use of existing federal infrastructure and allow phased implementation of new infrastructure. In 2013, the first capital dollars came from Washington state to help start canal widening efforts in the East Columbia Basin Irrigation District. The principal partners in the effort of the Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of Ecology, the East Columbia Basin Improvement District, and landowners. In the OGWRP area, there are 102,000 acres of eligible groundwater rights and 87,700 acres of groundwater replacement supplies available. Of this subset, 70,000 acres fall into the Odessa Subarea Special Project, 10,000 acres fall under the Lake Roosevelt Incremental Release Program, and 7,700 acres are covered through coordinated conservation.

Craig Simpson, East Columbia Basin Irrigation District, reported on the infrastructure developments, including new siphon installation and canal widening, for the ECBID. 

The East Low Canal Widening is a large undertaking with the goal of widening 44 miles of the canal. This requires the removal of 2,750,000 cubic yards of rock. The work is being done be the District, who purchased equipment and hired 30 new people specifically for the project. The District projections estimated a lower cost by doing the work in house rather than through the contractors and the Bureau of Reclamation. The Leisle Road Bridge was replaced to account for a wider canal running below it. This construction was also completed by a District crew. Further construction related to the East Low Canal improvements include work on the Kansas Prairie siphons 1 and 2, the additional of 5 radial gates, and addressing eight other county road bridges that the widened canal will pass under. Funding sources for East Low construction efforts: ARRA ($36M federal loan), state: ($29M grants for ELC widening and siphons), ECBID: ($22.5M municipal bond sale).

The District is making a concerted effort to work with landowners in the wake of litigation by landowners against ECBID. The goal of these efforts is to create systems that are collaboratively designed. The general timeline for the District is to complete the East Low Canal infrastructure, delivery system design, financing for construction, enter into contracts, build systems, deliver water, and ultimately provide aquifer relief and stabilization by delivering water the additional 87,000 acres and getting those wells offline. OCR and WDOE are currently evaluating the potential of injection in the Odessa area (and others statewide) but no solid plans exist at this point.


Methow Valley Irrigation District In-Stream Flow Improvement Project

Sandra Strieby, Methow Valley Irrigation District, Lisa Pelly, Trout Unlimited, Soo Ing-Moody, Mayor of Twisp, Melissa Downes, Office of Columbia River

Before recent upgrades, some parts of the Methow Valley Irrigation District canal were only 10% efficient. A yearly dredging effort was required in the Twisp River to divert water into the canal, which raised concerns in the District about the impact to sensitive/endangered species in the area. In 2002 and 2003, WDOE issued two waste orders that imposed limitations of MVID’s diversions. Litigation continued until 2011, when a settlement agreement was reached. Following that, MVID worked with the Department of Ecology and Trout Unlimited to design and build a project that would bring them into compliance with a settlement agreement. The District presented five different compliance plans for members to vote on. The winning option included upgrading pump and pipe systems, as well as placing some landowners on wells (wells are in hydraulic continuity with the river, they don’t pull from deep aquifers). When completed, the project upgraded 7.2 miles of open earthen canal to enclosed pipe at a cost of $12 million dollars. A large portion of funding came from federal and state grants. The water savings allowed the nearby town of Twisp, which had dealt with water supply issues for years, to enter into an agreement with MVID to receive more water for municipal use.


OCR: 17-19 Legislative and Budget

Tom Tebb and Melissa Downe, OCR

Recent Washington State Supreme Court cases involving disputes in other parts of the state have created uncertainty about the rules for water right permits issued from the Columbia River and connected groundwater bodies. SB 5269 and HR1394 would remove barriers to the timely issuance of water rights from the Columbia River by clearing up uncertainties brought about by recent court decisions. The added certainty will allow the state to more efficiently issue permits, and the public will benefit by having a clearer set of permit requirements.

Melissa gave a breakdown of what is currently permittable, what may be permittable, and what is unlikely to be permitted on the Columbia River. Below is an excerpt from her presentation

Currently permittable on the Columbia River mainstem:

o   Non-consumptive uses (hydropower, fish hatcheries)

o   Qi (instantaneous) only. For example, if a city wanted to increase the rate of the water pulled out, but not quantity.

o   In kind, in time, in place mitigation (water for water)

o   September to March season of use

Possibly permittable:

o   Short term, limited duration

o   Out of kind mitigation

o   In kind and in place mitigation that is temporally offset

o   Tributary water in lesser quantities than Columbia River mainstem quantities

o   Interruptible water right

Non starters:

o   Permanent consumptive appropriations during April through August

o   Interruptible water right

2017 Annual Meeting and Conference Recap

On May 25, the Oregon Water Coalition hosted its annual membership meeting at the Hermiston Conference Center. In total, 34 OWC members, local representatives, and speakers were present at the meeting. OWC president Bill Porfily opened the meeting at 8:15am, welcoming attendees and giving brief updates on the Coalition, including its recent change in designation from a 501(c)(6) to a 501(c)(3) and its decision to hire a coordinator at the beginning of this year. After these brief updates, Bill introduced the first speaker, David Filippi.

David Filippi is an attorney at Stoel Rives LLP in Portland. He opened the conference by providing an update on water-related legislation in Oregon, as well as other developments nationwide that could have an impact at the local level. He provided an overview of the pending litigation against Westland Irrigation District, and briefly mentioned the development of new rules in the Walla Walla Subbasin (further explained by OWRD's Justin Iverson later in the program). David highlighted some general themes in Oregon State water legislation this year--namely measurement and monitoring, introducing fees for water rights holders, and a focus on groundwater studies. These themes correspond to bills HB 2705, 2706, 2707, respectively. He also touched on SB 865, which would require cities and counties to inform irrigation districts about planned subdivisions, passed the House and Senate. Local Republican Senator Bill Hansell is the chief sponsor of this bill. Another topic of interest David noted was the brewing disagreement between Idaho and Oregon over reintroduction of threatened fish above the Hells Canyon Dam. Among a few points about actions at the federal level, he drew attention to the Bureau of Reclamation's Public-Private Partnerships program (P3). The program announced the release of a “Request for Information” seeking feedback on potential water resource projects for public-private partnerships. 

JR Cook, director of NOWA and member of OWC's board of directors, gave an update on the regional water supply projects and his organization's work in the Umatilla Basin. In the near future, NOWA's focus will turn more pointedly towards the East and West pipeline projects, with a continued focus on establishing a mitigation program. NOWA is also working to develop a basalt banking pilot test project to assess the feasibility of recharge efforts in the Umatilla Basin. Beyond NOWA's efforts directly, JR discussed Washington State's targeted infrastructure investment program for the Columbia River and its major tributaries. Establishing a similar program for large mainstem basins in Oregon could be very beneficial to make funds available for water projects. 
The final speaker was Justin Iverson, ground water section manager for OWRD. He provided a background on the rulemaking process and recently revised rules in the Walla Walla Subbasin. The May 11 revisions designated the subbasin as a "serious groundwater management problem area" and require the metering and reporting of water use from permitted basalt aquifers. Water levels have significantly declined across the region, with a 100 foot decline in basalt aquifers and a 15 foot decline of alluvial aquifers since 1950. As part of the rulemaking process, OWRD held seven public meetings and worked with local stakeholders. Walla Walla Subbasin groundwater management priorities are divided into two phases. In Phase One, the basin will be closed to further groundwater allocation, measurements of basalt aquifer water use must be reported by users, and there will be an increased push for data collection. In Phase Two, the goal is to see a stabilization of groundwater levels and encourage the creation of a water supply plan that is "voluntary, community-based, long term, holistic". 

The OWC would like to thank all those who attended the event, with special thanks to the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce for providing space and Desert Springs Bottled Water for providing food for attendees. 

To read the East Oregonian's recap of the event, please click here


Updated: Idaho's Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer: Overview and Developments

The past winter was a record year for recharge in Idaho's Eastern Snake Plain. With support from the state legislature, recharge efforts began there in 2015. This winter, over 300,000 acre-feet of water has been recharged, exceeding the goal of 250,000 acre-foot per year. On May 18, the Idaho Water Resources Board suspended ESPA recharge efforts for the season in light of the Bureau of Reclamation's announcement that flows below the Minidoka Dam will be decreased in order to meet irrigation needs. The full press release can be found here. See below for additional news links and an overview of the region.

A collection of ESPA news coverage from the earlier this year: 

Idaho looks ahead to future recharge projects : Improved efficiency of irrigation systems means a large role for managed recharge. The IWRB will focus on building additional recharge sites distributed through ESPA. 

State law helps boost recharge totals: This season, a new state law in Idaho allowed canal managers to recharge surplus water without a recharge right, boosting recharge totals. 

Record Year in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer: From late October until the end of April, nearly 300,000 acre-feet of water was returned to the aquifer through five projects in eastern Idaho and five projects in south-central Idaho.


Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer Overview

The Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (ESPA) is located in southeastern Idaho. It is Idaho’s largest aquifer system, and one of the largest in the United States. The aquifer is composed primarily of basalts and covers approximately 11,000 square miles. The storage capacity of the upper 500 feet is estimated to be 200-300 million acre feet. Primary discharges are the Thousand Springs area and American Falls/Ft. Hall area. Snow and rainfall from Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada feed into the Snake River and supply the aquifer. The Snake River Plain, which draws from the aquifer, contains 2 million irrigated acres and supports farming operations including potatoes, sugar beets, wheat, barley, beans, peas, alfalfa, dairies, and aquaculture. Output from this region accounts for about 25% of Idaho’s economy. 


Timeline of Developments

2016: The Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer is designated as a Ground Water Managment Area by the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

2016: In 2016, the Legislature approved $28.9 million over three years in recharge funding. The money comes from a mix of general and dedicated funds and federal grants. 

2014: HB 547 allocates $5 million to the Water Resources Board for aquifer recharge with priority given to ESPA. HB 479 grants an additional $4 million one-time allocation to fund recharge infrastructure. Additional one-time funds were allocated in 2015. 

2009: Swan Falls Re-affirmation Agreement between the State of Idaho and the Idaho Power Company. Among a number of stipulations, the agreement requires the state of Idaho to work with Idaho Power in the case of lower hydropower generation with the introduction of diversions.

2009: The Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer Comprehensive Aquifer Recharge Management Plan (CAMP) is signed into law by Governor Butch Otter as part of the State Water Plan. ESPA Comprehensive Aquifer Recharge Management Plan average annual managed recharge targets: Years one through ten: 100,000 acre feet/yr. After ten years, the goal is 250,000 acre feet/yr

2008-2009: IWRB (Idaho Water Resources Board) completes a pilot project to test methods of recharging water into aquifer. The results show that the best case infiltration is about ½ ft/day. Injection wells are a feasible option at most sites, but the cost of permitting and monitoring will increase higher populations, making it less attractive.

2007: Idaho Ground Water Association (IGWA) acquires 29,500 AF of storage water in rental pool for their required mitigation; ran it through canal in fall for seepage.

2006: IWRB recharge rights from the Snake and Wood Rivers come into priority. IRWB requests multiple canals divert their water for aquifer recharge seepage. The result is 60,500 acre feet of total recharge.

2005: The Idaho legislature passes HCR 28, HB 373, and HB 392. This suite of bills provides support to the IWRB to support and fund managed recharge programs.

 1998: IWRB applies for 20 water rights to recharge water from the Snake River, but protests by a number of different groups halt the applications.

 1998: IWRB completes the ESPA Managed Recharge Feasibility Study.

 1995: The Idaho Legislature appropriates $945,000 for recharge efforts to IWRB, and the program administration is then passed along to Water District 1. With this project, natural flow diversion for recharge is made using the irrigation water rights for participating canals.

 1992: South West Irrigation District partners with the federal government to build 13 injection wells in the Eastern Snake Plain.

 1991: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designates ESPA as a sole source aquifer.

 1990’s: Drought leads to an increasing decline in groundwater levels with more pumping and fewer surface water diversions to facilitate recharge.

 1981: The Idaho Water Resources Board (IWRB) issues the Upper Snake Recharge Report recapping the pilot recharge project and analyzing the feasibility of expanding recharges efforts. Legislative action creates the Snake River Aquifer Recharge District, allowing for efforts to continue. About 84,700 acre feet of recharge from 1980-1999 is observed.

 1970: After a 1962 recommendation by the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) to introduce a recharge project in the Eastern Snake Plain, a pilot recharge project begins in the Egin Lake area.

1960’s: The expansion of irrigation on Eastern Snake Plain leads to an increased reliance on groundwater. Additionally, the growing adoption of more efficient irrigation methods leads to less recharge from irrigation and a decline in groundwater levels.


New grant opportunity: NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant

The USDA-NRCS's Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program supports farmers and ranchers who are undertaking innovative projects targeting energy, air quality, water, plant, soil, and wildlife concerns. In Oregon, NRCS will award up to $250,000 to assist in the development of creative, on-the-ground projects that aim to improve agricultural and environmental outcomes. Applications are due April 28th and applicants may request up to $75,000. 

To learn more about this grant program, please visit the NRCS website. To learn more about additional grant funding, see our Grant Opportunities page. 

Check out our resources page

With the launch of a new website, the Water Coalition is pleased to present a new resource section of our website. In this section, you can see a completed list of water-related legislation in the Oregon, Washington, and Idaho and see a schedule of regional meetings for state and local representatives. In the coming month, the Coalition will continue to build this resource page. To access these pages, please click here. If you have ideas for what you'd like to see, please let us know here