Growthophobes Fear Well Water Loss

Thirsty land speculators have caused GROWTHOPHOBES in NW Ada County to organize and protest water rights applications due to be heard later this month.water

Owners of wells near Eagle are concerned about developers getting water rights and causing existing wells to dry up or lower the water table.

Of prime concern to those with wells is the likes of Avimor, Dry Creek, and the big M3 Eagle developments planned or in the works in the foothills north of Eagle. Conventional wisdom has it that development is dead for the time being, but the developers are still seeking rights to suck on the aquifer.

Even if they don’t develop these giant subdivisions, the value of the land will increase exponentially once water rights are attached.

To learn more about groundwater in north Ada County contact North Ada County Water Users Associationat 939-9900 or log on to the IDWR WEBSITE.

Comments & Discussion

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  1. So, why can some people have water rights and not others? Just because they got there first?

    Sounds like a one possible way to deny others rightful use of their land – “IGMEELS,” stands for “I Got Mine, Everybody Else Leave.” Planned communities are preferable to the low-density ranchette sprawl that characterizes faux rural development. Authentic rural towns – the original planned communities – have high-density town centers and open space around them, just like modern planned communities.

    Unless the existing water users can demonstrate that additional wells will diminish their supply (easy to show with surface water but harder with well water), they have no right to try to stop development on that basis.

    EDITOR NOTE–The second paragraph of the story is pretty clear explaining their fear is drying up existing wells or lowering the water table. This happened when Micron began sucking water, causing a need for “injection wells” pumping Boise River water back into the aquifer. Growth sucks in more ways than one.

  2. I wouldn’t go very far out of my way to support or advocate for large planned communities, but I do find it real interesting that the local “old timers” here throw stones at them while all the while wastefully spewing water from one end of the North End (sidewalks won’t grow folks no matter how much you flood irrigate them) to Eagle where little 5 acre ranchetters support one or two head of recreational livestock. Glass houses folks…real thin walled glass houses. I think a nice case study might be to look a a relatively built-out Hidden Springs and compare average per household water use there against a typical suburban neighborhood. All common area landscape/parks and the school grounds in Hidden Springs are watered with effluent which must bring the overall average way down. Avimor will do the same – if they can ever sell enough homes to justify turning on their fancy $5M sewer treatment plant and returning effluent to the community!

  3. To the best of my knowledge, water rights are allocated in Idaho by the “first in time, first in line” philosophy and when a property owner sells his property he also sells his water right. This is a desert so property without water rights is pretty much useless. You can imagine how devastating it would be for someone to move in next door, dig a well, which causes you to have to dig a deeper well to continue to get water. I would not like to be in that shape. When developers want to provide water to thousands of homes, it could be devastating to those already living here.

  4. There's Dust in Them Thar Wells
    Mar 14, 2009, 7:10 am

    If I remember right, the justification for Gulf War 1.0 was because Iraq was drilling near (under?) the border and tapping Kuwait’s oil rights.

    Substitute water for oil and we have the same thing here. The difference is, Idaho’s regulatory agencies have never come to grips with the idea that we live in a desert and water, like oil, is finite. They just hand out drilling permits to whomever asks. That is how they drained the Snake River aquifer and they didn’t wake up until all the wells and all the springs from Burley to Bliss started going dry.

    Our faithful leaders at IDWR are now over-allocating water north of eagle and they won’t stop until existing water right holder’s wells go dry and go to court to force the late comers to stop pumping.

    One may then ask: What will the then inhabitants of the (poorly) planned communities do for water? Don’t ask the developers. By then, they, like the water, will be long gone.

    You may be able to teach old dogs new tricks, but not the Idaho Department of Water Resources.

  5. Tom Anderson
    Mar 14, 2009, 8:06 am

    The book “Ogallala Blue” is an excellent case study of what happens when aquifers get drawn down faster than the rate of replenishment. The book studies the massive Ogallala aquifer that provides water for the entire MidWestern ‘breadbasket’ of America.

    The aquifer water level is going lower each year and the properties on the fringe are losing water altogether, and are being abandoned.

    The elephant in the room is that when electricity rates soar in the near future, it will be too expensive to use the aquifer water, because the energy needed to draw water from great depths will cost more than the value of the crops.

    The entire MidWest is under threat of reverting to the buffalo and prairie from wence it came due to aquifer overuse. It will take hundreds of years for the aquifer to naturally refill.

    We would be fools to draw down our valley water table and put ourselves in the same trap that will soon doom the entire MidWest.

  6. With today’s technology, I have to believe that the size and capacity of an aquifer can be measured. Why do we wait until someone runs out of water before we address the issue? Can’t we figure out how much growth the water supply will support before we add thousands of new homes?

  7. Clippityclop
    Mar 14, 2009, 12:33 pm

    Wonkster et al,

    Get a grip. This aquifer is in deep peril with the number and volume of municipal water right applications pending at IDWR. Existing rural neighborhood associations have had to spend a boatload just to protect legally, with some teeth, their existing water rights — they would have virtually no recourse should their wells fail without having protested at the application level. And don’t think for a second that PC developers aren’t looking hard at selling their municipal water rights to United Water. That’s about the only thing that will cash flow for them after buying land at the top of the market with no hope in sight for return of the housing bubble. I suspect these folks are trying to make something from a very poor investment.

  8. Let us not forget that United Water is a subsidiary of Suez, a French company. Just wanted to remind everyone that we pay a foreign company to distribute our water. When this water gets depleted we will pay through the nose for what’s left. That will be the day that orginary folks will give up having a lawn.

  9. Idaho code 42-203A prohibits granting water rights when someone’s just going to sell it –“…where it appears to the satisfaction of the director that such application is not made in good faith, is made for delay or speculative purposes,….the director of the department of water resources may reject such application…”

  10. There's Dust in Them Thar Wells
    Mar 14, 2009, 5:00 pm

    Wonkster et al, #2

    Avimor and Hidden Spring, by applying there waste water to local open space may not consume as much water as a conventional subdivision, but that does not mean they do not consume water. The well of an existing water right holder can be drained just as effectively by 500 homes using half as much, as 250 homes using the usual amount. At the end of the day, a dry well is still a dry well.

    Cyclops is right, we do have the technology to measure aquifers. We do know how much burden a new subdivision will place on existing neighboring water right holders.

    What we don’t have, is a state with the political backbone to do the right thing until it is too late.

  11. Antiphobe, another advantage of higher-density planned communities that preserve open space is that they have smaller lots and smaller lawns. The area that would instead go into large private lawns has been transferred to preserving the natural landscape. That’s a stark contrast to ranchette development, which privatizes all land, leaving nothing natural for the public to have access to. As you point out, these ranchettes use huge amounts of water to sustain a few recretional cattle. Nothing wrong with that, but they shouldn’t get too bent out of shape when a large development comes along and proposes to use land and water in a much more environmentally friendly fashion.

  12. Clippityclop
    Mar 15, 2009, 9:01 am


    As an example, Dry Creek Ranch is actively marketing their 1400-acre property as a planned community even though they have not yet been granted a zoning change/entitlement from Ada County. Even if they get a zoning change, my thought is that with this economy, they have absolutely no plans for seeing this project through — they’re looking to dump it, and to sell the water right to United Water. I seriously doubt that they’ll say that in their application to IDWR, but here’s where a firm grasp of reality is helpful. Why IDWR would even consider granting a municipal water right before a zoning change is made, I have no idea. This seems speculative to me in that either the plan is to sell to United Water, or to make the land more marketable for a FUTURE planned community even without the zoning change. Cyclops is right. IDWR has very little backbone and tends not to do the right thing. Why in the world would they want to recreate another adjucication nightmare by not knowing the carrying capacity of the foothills aquifer? That study is currently underway, but nobody wants to wait for it.

  13. The thought of water shortages strikes fear into the heart of people. Before we all jump to the conclusion that master planned communities will suck all the water out of the valley, we all need to get a little more educated on the multiple aquifers in the area. Look at whether or not they are connected or independent. The wells do indeed need to be monitored and any changes need to be discussed by all the parties involved. There are a couple of really smart guys over at BSU that know the geology and hydrology of the region.

    We also need to look at ourselves and our own water sucking consumption.

    Avimor boasts that their homes and landscapes will use 30-60% less water than equivalent sized homes in the city. They also have a site where it may be possible to inject reclaimed water back into the aquifer. Similar solutions should be looked at for those of us living in the valley.

  14. Clippity-

    After perusing the M3 Eagle and Dry Creek Ranch water rights applications, I stand somewhat corrected. Both applications are for “municipal purposes” which allows a speculative element, in that water can be claimed for future anticipated needs. Dry Creek is anticipating 1400 homes and M3 Eagle over 4000. I don’t disagree that the main purpose in securing the water rights is to make it easier for the current owners to unload the property. It is interesting that the applicants assert that PC’s meet all the requirements of a municipality under Idaho law.

    It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to realize the aquifers of the north Ada desert are in equilibrium. Any new, substantial withdrawals will show up as depletions somewhere else. The IDWR hearing officer will indeed have his/her hands full on this one.

  15. Clippityclop
    Mar 15, 2009, 8:01 pm


    Dry Creek Ranch has offered to reduce their number of planned homes from 4300 to a little more than 3300. M3 is much larger than 4000. All told, the number of planned dwellings cumulatively for PCs in the North Ada County foothills is in the tens of thousands. Quite a gamble with an unknown carrying capacity of the aquifer. There is absolutely zero rush to develop as the existing housing stock continues to rise with foreclosures/short sales and will likely continue to do so for years. This would be an EXCELLENT time to complete the aquifer study, begun by IDWR and funded by the legislature last year, BEFORE the County grants entitlements or at least until we all know what’s what. There is simply too much as stake. Once again, IDWR, let’s not create another adjudication fiasco. In the words of the departed Duke, “Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting.” This is not a pretty picture.

  16. The issue isn’t master planned communities versus 5 acre ranchettes. It’s being a good steward of the resources and not over-allocating water in the desert. Eastern Snake River Aquifer anyone? What short memories we have. Or just Google the water battles and shortages in Georgia/Florida/Alabama and/or Southern California. No need to reinvent the waterwheel – we can learn from their mistakes. That’s not being a growth-o-phobe but smartly planning ahead. Sure wish the financial markets had done that…

  17. Tom Anderson
    Mar 16, 2009, 12:58 am

    Would somebody explain to me why anybody would be allowed to “…inject reclaimed water back into the aquifer…” (Aquaman)?

    IF the reclaimed water was clean, you could reuse it instead of pulling more out of the aquifer, right?

    If it wasn’t clean, wouldn’t you be intentionally contaminating the aquifer?

  18. Wonk/Anti:
    No one’s arguing for ranchettes but since you brought it up:
    M3’s 6000 acres would translate to 1200 5-acre ranchettes, which would be allowed to irrigate a half acre under IDWR policy. There’s been a moratorium on new individual wells for irrigation for many years. So your 2-cow argument’s specious.

    The company has land use entitlements to 7150 houses, 2 million square feet of commercial and 6 or 7 schools plus two golf courses.
    Their request to IDWR is for up to 14 million gallons a day withdrawn from aquifer(s) which, as clippity notes, are unmapped.
    There’s a reason the foothills were ranched (with water trucked in, BTW) not farmed.

  19. I still shake my head when I think our water is owned by a foreign company. How did this happen. I bet they laugh all the way to there foreign banks.

  20. lib.redneck
    Mar 16, 2009, 9:26 am

    Build houses like the camper I lived in. Gray water storage tanks. Limited potable water. GPM gauges on the faucet and shower to keep and eye on usage. Gray water to flush the toilets. Xeriscaped yards. Passive Solar homes arranged to take advantage of our natural setting. Solar Panels and Wind Generators installed on homes but owned and operated by the HOA. I would support that community…I’d like to live in it. Hey developers! I want to buy a 2400 sq.ft. house but I want 1200 sq.ft. of it to be basement. Small footprint; more space for veggies and trees. Make sure my house can charge my lifted 4×4 electric truck.

  21. Hey Lib.Redneck, make sure they will let you park that sweet elecric ride in the front yard next to your broken down lifted gas 4X4. I heard you can make a solar collector from empty beer cans. Will they have a problem with outdoor furniture? I’ll move there too as long as I can park the inlaw’s double wide on the property and chain the pit bull out front.

  22. I’m a current 5 acre owner in the area potentially impacted by Dry Creek Development. In our case, well water is the only source for drinking, household use, and irrigation of less than half of our 5 acres. I’m not afraid of growth or planned developments, I just want the water rights I have had to pay for and maintain to be protected. If my well which has been consistently producing for over 30 years suddenly goes dry, I am left without the ability to sustain life on my property… Not cattle, not 5 acres of pastures, my life and my children’s. Just another perspective to add to the discussion.

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