Several stakeholders are supporting the broadened focus of a federal water supply study that will look at more than the Teton River and rebuilding the failed Teton Dam.
“We’re supportive of that,” Fremont Madison Irrigation Director Dale Swensen says of the broadened scope of the study.
Friends of the Teton River Executive Director Lyn Benjamin also praised the new scope of the study and the work of Trout Unlimited, American Rivers and Idaho Rivers United in encouraging the broader look at water supply issues in the Henry’s Fork basin.
“I recognize that farmers I work with need water, and they recognize that fish need water,” Benjamin says in an e-mail concerning the topic. “Hopefully we’re going to do some decent science and some economic science to support the decisions that get made.”
“We applaud the BOR for launching a more thorough study of our water options,” says Kim Goodman Trotter of Trout Unlimited. “We look forward to collaborating with all stakeholders to find the best solutions for Idaho.”
Initially, the Idaho Legislature appropriated $400,000, to be matched with an equal amount by the BOR to do the study that would look at feasibilities of rebuilding the dam that spectacularly failed in 1976.
Bureau of Reclamation Pacific Northwest Regional Activities Manager Robert Schattin explained last week at a Henry’s Fork Watershed Council meeting how the study was expanded to include the whole Henry’s Fork basin, including the Teton River.
The Henry’s Fork study will focus on conservation and changes in water management, as well as water storage alternatives.
Schattin, in a phone interview this week, says his agency was influenced by letters and conversations with Trout Unlimited and other groups interested in broadening the study, largely because the BOR itself was headed in that direction.
“I know they met with the regional director and submitted a letter to broaden the goals,” Schattin says. “That was the way the bureau was headed anyway.
“It will provide a good opportunity for more success,” he says of the widened study.
Swensen concurs. “We thought focusing solely on (studying the) rebuilding the Teton Dam – which we support – might eliminate other important water-supply alternatives,” he says. “The bureau is on the right track.”
“Aquifer recharge, conservation and optimization need to be in the mix for meeting our water supply needs,” Trotter says. “These could go a long way to meeting our water needs and at far less cost than a big dam.”
The other options could have the added benefit of preserving wild rivers, recreation opportunities and outdoors heritage, she says. “Teton Canyon is an amazing wild place that we need to save for future generations.”
Other funding, study
To accomplish the broader reach of the study, the state has pursued regional BOR funds through the Secure Water Act-Water SMART program with an application deadline of June 4, Schattin says.
With funding secured, the two-year water supply study will proceed with two working groups focused on two aspects.
The water supply/storage group will look at watershed hydrology and potential on-stream and off-stream storage sites using previous studies and expanding upon them. Both above-ground and aquifer storage will be considered.
The water conservation/optimization group will look at opportunities with the Fremont Madison Irrigation District for conservation and water management.
The objectives will be to help in future planning efforts and to provide specialized information that help in future decision-making at the state and local levels, the framework document for the study says. The framework also says the study results will identify opportunities for the development of the water supply, improvement of water management and sustaining environmental quality.
Trotter’s organization, Trout Unlimited, will continue to be involved as it has since it first opposed the original construction of the Teton Dam.
“Rebuilding Teton Dam is still an option that is being considered as part of the Henry’s Fork special water study, so we will be following this closely to ensure that other more reasonable options will be vetted as part of the study,” Trotter says.
“Teton Dam would be a huge, expensive boondoggle. A broader scope will ensure that eastern Idahoans get the best study of water supply options available.
“In this time of budget constraints, Idaho shouldn’t be spending a lot of money to study old ideas like the Teton Dam that several previous studies have found doesn’t make sense economically,” she says.
The BOR also has assigned a hydrologist to be a liaison with Rob Van Kirk of Humboldt University, according to Schattin.
Van Kirk and his university team are in the second year of a three-year Department of Agriculture-funded study looking at the relationships between surface and groundwater in the context of land use and development in the Henry’s Fork Basin.
The BOR has established a Web site that details the study. Schattin says information will be added to the site as it becomes available. The site is www.usbr.gov/pn/programs/studies/idaho/henrysfork/index.html.