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What is the Aquifer

September 25, 2006 KPVI NBC News Channel 6
 

One of the Gem State's most valuable treasures is hidden from view. Beneath the surface of the ground is a billion acre feet of water; enough water to create a lake 140 feet deep. Political specialist Doug Andersen has more on the state's largest aquifer.

As the State Water Resources Board meets to formulate a plan to manage Idaho water, one component is the aquifer. What is it? And what does it do?

Jerry Rigby, chair, Idaho Water Resources Board: "One could say it's like a huge reservoir that, in essence, water goes in and water comes out."

It's 4,000 feet deep in spots, and the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer is made mostly of basalt. The combination of rock and sediment yield water. Not like a river, rather a sponge. And it's constantly changing.

Jerry Rigby, chair, Idaho Water Resources Board: "There's basically four different levels in this aquifer."

It spans 11,000 miles from Ashton on the north to King Hill in the west and has 600 times the capacity of the American Falls Reservoir.

Jerry Rigby, chair, Idaho Water Resources Board: "This is an aquifer we are all sitting on and we all need to understand it better."

The aquifer works like this - water intake, called recharge, comes mostly from irrigation. The other 40% comes from river and aquifer infiltration and precipitation.

Jerry Rigby, chair, Idaho Water Resources Board: "We've gone through a historical drought. Because of that, when we get out of that, assuming we do, optimistic we will, this aquifer, which is a huge aquifer, will replenish itself."

The discharge flows into the Snake River - 85%. The remaining percentage pumped for other uses.

Jerry Rigby, chair, Idaho Water Resources Board: "It's an accounting system, you only get a reservoir to increase its level when water's being put in."

That accounting is important because of the debate - legal, political and commercial over water availability.

Jerry Rigby, chair, Idaho Water Resources Board: "It isn't as simple as saying, 'I have a right in this aquifer.'"

Location, priority dates, and more. And then there's the question of damage.

Jerry Rigby, chair, Idaho Water Resources Board: "If we are mining the aquifer, then obviously we need to get on top of it."

That's the charge from the legislature to the Water Resources Board; set a plan to maintain the health of Idaho's largest aquifer.

A new Idaho water management plan is expected to go before the legislature in January.

 

 
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