Idaho’s 500,000-acre curtailment is irresponsible, unjustifiable

green trees in both sides of river by ELTON MENEFEE is licensed under

Thousands of farmers across the Snake River Plain, who were greeted by an order from the Department that they must immediately cease irrigating crops on approximately 500,000 acres. This means that farmers must abandon fields that have been planted, fertilized, and cultivated, at the cost of several millions of dollars, or face steep fines. This order, in the absence of an emergency stay, will upend the local and regional economies of eastern Idaho as family farms, grain merchandisers, potato warehouses, food processors, truckers, input suppliers, and equipment dealers see their business models evaporate, and as banks face the prospect of widespread defaults. The realities of our interconnected economy guarantee that widespread disruptions will be felt throughout the state, including in the Magic Valley, whose huge dairy industry, for example, relies on alfalfa from their neighbors to the east. And many of those same banks, equipment dealers, and processers that this order will put out of business are also found in the Magic Valley and across the state. This order hurts individuals and families who have poured their lives into these businesses, owners and employees alike.

What emergency could possibly prompt such an outsize response from IDWR? Over the last several months, our reservoir system has completely filled, over 200 billion gallons of water have been released to prevent flooding, and our rivers have swollen beyond their banks. Our snowpack is above average, we have good soil moisture, and we have enjoyed a cool spring. Yet the department, using a process intentionally designed to overestimate shortfalls, declared last month that one canal in the Magic Valley may experience a 74,100-acre-foot shortfall this year. In order to avoid that possibility, the director is shutting off approximately 1 million acre-feet of irrigation. This despite the fact that the canal in question loses 660,000 acre-feet per year to inefficiencies, according to department calculations. 

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