On June 20, the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) announced the approval of a comprehensive agreement between the Surface Water Coalition (SWC) and the groundwater districts in the Eastern Snake Plain region for the 2024 irrigation season.

Woolsey cassidy
Managing Editor / Ag Proud – Idaho
Cassidy is a contributing editor to Progressive Cattle and Progressive Forage magazines.

This settlement will lift the curtailment for all nine groundwater districts reliant on water from the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (ESPA), safeguarding 330,000 acres of Idaho farmland from drying up and preventing an economic catastrophe in the state, according to a news release from Idaho Ground Water Appropriators Inc. (IGWA).

While this agreement ensures farmers can continue growing crops in 2024, it does not fully resolve the underlying issues in Idaho's management of the ESPA. Lt. Gov. Scott Bedke emphasized in the announcement, “Now that this is settled for 2024, we can begin working on what the future looks like for aquifer management and mitigation for senior water users.”

Gov. Brad Little also commented on the agreement, stating, “Just like we’ve done over and over, Idahoans came together, resolved our differences and found a path forward to protect farmers and our water supply for the year. However, we recognize we still have a lot of hard work to do. We will be OK for this year, but we all agree we need a better plan in the years ahead to protect our farmers and ensure Idaho maintains our water sovereignty. We remain committed to working with all water users in Idaho to ensure we have a sustainable supply of water for this generation and future generations.”

For the 2024 irrigation season, all Eastern Snake Plain groundwater districts will adhere to the 2016 mitigation plan. This plan entails the collective conservation of 240,000 acre-feet of groundwater and the delivery of 50,000 acre-feet of storage water to the SWC. In exchange, all members of these districts will be protected from curtailment. Additionally, the parties have agreed upon a series of measures, including acknowledging excess conservation efforts undertaken by the districts in 2023, to rectify the breach of the mitigation plan in 2022. Furthermore, there is a commitment to negotiate a new mitigation plan by the year's end to shield junior water users from future curtailment.


“We have learned that the current approach to managing the ESPA by the Idaho Department of Water Resources is not effective,” said IGWA Chairwoman Stephanie Mickelsen, in the IGWA news release. “Without meaningful change in how water resources are managed in the coming months, we risk finding ourselves in this same position again, and all of Idaho will pay the price. We look forward to working with state leaders to chart a path that is in the best interest of the state moving forward.”

Kent Fletcher, the attorney representing the SWC, expressed satisfaction with the agreement achieved with the groundwater districts. “Despite all efforts since the mitigation plan was signed in 2015, the ESPA continues to experience declining aquifer levels, spring discharges and reach gains into the Snake River, which supply the SWC senior water rights. The SWC looks forward to negotiating amendments to the mitigation plan that address concerns of the groundwater districts while improving management, enforcement of groundwater pumping and recovery of senior surface water supplies. The SWC seeks a mitigation plan that incentivizes compliance, is enforceable and ultimately avoids findings of injury to senior surface water rights every year.”

The curtailment was ordered after IDWR projected a 74,100-acre-foot shortfall of surface water to the Twin Falls Canal Company, a senior water right holder in the Magic Valley. The new plan mitigates for that shortfall and continues the commitment to recharge the ESPA.

IDWR officials encouraged all groundwater users not affiliated with a groundwater district or other organization with an approved mitigation plan to consider joining a district to avoid curtailment.