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Judge blocks curtailment order for southern Idaho groundwater pumpers

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TWIN FALLS, Idaho — A judge has blocked a state order cutting off water to about 500 water rights holders in south-central Idaho.

Judge Eric Wildman of the Snake River Basin Adjudication Court on Thursday granted a stay requested by the Idaho Ground Water Appropriators.

"I feel great now," Heyburn Mayor George Anderson told The Times-News (http://bit.ly/1CYTfAh). "I think there is a little more light at the end of the tunnel. It was looking pretty bleak for a while."

Heyburn is one of 14 cities facing water curtailment. The order also includes a large portion of Idaho's dairy industry with some 200 commercial livestock operations. More than half of Idaho's dairy processors are also in the curtailment order. A dairy official said that about 100,000 dairy cows rely on groundwater in the area.

Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Gary Spackman ordered the curtailment Tuesday after the groundwater pumpers failed to meet a weekend deadline to build a pipe as part of a mitigation plan to replace water belonging to a Hagerman-based fish farm and feed producer called Rangen Inc.

Groundwater pumpers at the hearing said the pipe will be operating by Feb. 7, and Wildman said he would hold them to that deadline.

"You will not be back in here" to seek another delay, Wildman told T.J. Budge, the attorney for the groundwater pumpers.

Rangen attorney Fritz Haemmerle argued against the stay, noting Spackman gave the groundwater pumpers a "drop-dead deadline."

Rangen has senior water rights but hasn't been getting its share of water due to groundwater pumping from the East Snake Plain Aquifer. Courts have ruled that removing groundwater reduces the flows from springs, violating the water rights of those with earlier claims.

Rangen has rights to 70 cubic feet per second of water, Haemmerle has said, but its consumption has been reduced to about 10 cubic feet per second due to groundwater pumping.

The groundwater pumpers told state officials they weren't able to complete the pipe in time to meet last weekend's deadline after complications arose concerning the type of pipe being used. The wrong kind of pipe, experts said, could lead to diseases being introduced at the fish farm.


Information from: The Times-News, http://www.magicvalley.com

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