New committee takes on Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer

By Bill Schaefer; Capital Press

POCATELLO, Idaho — A diverse group of 13 water users met Sept. 13 to review the 2015 agreement between groundwater and surface water users and its impact on the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.

The group’s job is to draft amendments to the agreement or a new management plan that will help restore the aquifer without harming senior or junior water rights holders.

IDWR Director Gary Spackman tasked James Cefalo, the IDWR eastern regional manager, with organizing the advisory committee.

In 2016, Spackman designated the aquifer as a Ground Water Management Area. A GWMA designates all or part of a groundwater basin that may be approaching conditions of a Critical Ground Water Area.

Idaho aquifer

Under a GWMA, applications for new water appropriations may be approved only after it has been determined that a sufficient water supply is available and other prior water rights will not be injured.

“I’m leading the committee but my hope is that the committee members will carry most of the discussion, I’m just here as a moderator,” Cefalo said.

“This committee is made up of water users and groups who rely on water from the entire ESPA area,” Cefalo said.

The committee includes canal managers, ground water district board members, water users, cities and spring water users.

The primary task of the committee will be to develop a draft management plan for the  GWMA, Cefalo said.

He said the meeting was to discuss topics for consideration and set an agenda and schedule for future meetings.


The 13 members of the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer Ground Water Management Area advisory committee are:

• Ellis Gooch, American Falls Reservoir District #2.

• Brent Bowen, Burley Irrigation District.

• Roger Blass, Twin Falls Canal Company.

• Randy Brown, Southwest Irrigation District.

• Kresta Davis, Idaho Power Company.

• Mike Telford, Big Lost River GWD.

• Jeff Mansfield, City of Pocatello.

• Mike Williams, City of Jerome.

• Bill Stoddart, Jefferson-Clark GWD.

• Stephanie Mickelsen, Bonneville-Jefferson GWD.

• Tim Deeg, Aberdeen-American Falls GWD.

• Lynn Carlquist, North Snake GWD.

• Karen Henderson, Hagerman Valley Spring Users.

“We will meet as long as it takes, and that could be months. It could even extend beyond that, even past a year,” he said. “There are a lot of difficult subjects that we are going to need to tackle, and it may take multiple meetings on just an individual topic for us to reach a consensus to then start drafting language for a plan.”

Among those attending the meeting was Jeff Raybould, of St. Anthony, chairman of the Idaho Water Resource Board.

Raybould said he expected to hear diverse opinions from the committee members on what they want in a ground water management plan.

Raybould isn’t ready to tear up the 2015 Settlement Agreement between the Surface Water Coalition and the Idaho Ground Water Association. He’s hoping the committee will find a way to bridge their differences.

“If everything comes together just right in a ground water management plan there may not be a need for a new settlement agreement,” he said. “The people who made the call, (the Surface Water Coalition), may be willing to allow this ground water management plan to recover the aquifer and do what they intended to have happen through the settlement agreement.”

The committee represents a new start at fine-tuning the present agreement, according to Raybould.

“This agreement didn’t work out for a lot of reasons,” he said. “It wasn’t well enough defined and put into the four corners of the agreement what everybody was going to do and how they were going to do it. There were a lot of assumptions made by all the parties about what was going to happen that you can’t necessarily pull out of the agreement.”

The next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 23 at 1 p.m. in the Pocatello City Council Chambers. It is open to the public, and there will be a live video transmission on Zoom.

For more information and a link to the transmission visit the Idaho Department of Water Resources website.

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