MOSCOW — As more people migrate to Idaho, counties like Ada and Kootenai are seeing the effects of increased population on the areas’ already dwindling water sources. Whether water comes from underground sources like aquifers or surface water sources like rivers and reservoirs, local officials say Idaho’s water is being used up faster than it can be replenished.
In 2015, Idaho had the highest water consumption per person in the country with an average of 184 gallons of water used per day, according to a report by the US Geological Survey. While 1.6% of Idaho’s water withdrawals were used for public supply and domestic water, that is, water used inside and outside d n a home, as well as any water withdrawn for the public water system, nearly all of Idaho’s water is used for agricultural irrigation.
Of the water used for domestic and public supply in 2015, 89% came from groundwater sources. Springs, wells, and aquifers supply water to homes in Idaho. However, more homes are being built in Idaho as the population grows in areas like Treasure Valley and around Lake Coeur d’Alene.
Ada and Kootenai counties have been among the fastest growing counties in the state since 2010, with Ada County’s population increasing by nearly a third and Kootenai County following closely behind with an increase of the population by 29%. Teton County is the fastest growing county in the state with a population increase of 34% since 2010. While Teton County’s population is significantly lower than Ada and Kootenai, the growth rate exceeds these areas.
All three counties are experiencing water shortages, even in Teton County where there are 27 people per square mile, compared to 447 for Ada and 131 people per square mile for Kootenai. According to the Teton Water Users Association website, less snow, higher demand, and irrigation are the main reasons for the continued decline of Idaho’s aquifers.
Wells in rapidly expanding areas are drying up
All three counties face water accessibility issues, from wells that dry up because the water table has dropped to water rights transferred to private owners.
Stan Ridgeway, former mayor of Eagle, said residents of his subdivision had to pay tens of thousands of dollars to drill new wells because theirs had dried up.
“My neighbor here, who had his well drilled last year, told me the estimate to have that well drilled was $20,000,” Ridgeway said. “I don’t know if they spent that much on it, but with supply and demand and all the building and everything going on, it was just outrageous.”
A southwest Boise neighborhood has pushed local officials to stop developing land historically used for agriculture to prevent shallower wells from drying up, according to CBS 2 IdahoNews reports. Data from the Department of Water Resources shows that water levels in the Southwest Boise Aquifer System are dropping about a foot each year.
Other solutions include using deeper community wells instead of a private well for each individual property, or paying the tens of thousands of dollars it would take to drill a deeper well or hook up to the city water.
Kootenai County Commissioner Chris Fillios said wells in an area of his community south of Coeur d’Alene called Cougar Gulch also dried up. In response to dry wells and the approval of a small nearby subdivision after public opposition, Cougar Gulch subdivision representatives are attempting to increase the minimum lot size from two acres to five acres.
This could achieve a few goals, according to Fillios. One solution could be for an individual to own more land and water rights, and another solution could limit the population of new neighborhoods without significant impact or decrease in growth, he said.
Fillios said he has two wells on his 10-acre property: a private well and a community well that supplies water to up to seven other lots.
He said that in order for a developer to receive a building permit for the Cougar Gulch area, the Kootenai County Land Use and Development Code requires the developer to prove that the well can flow five gallons of water. water per minute for four consecutive hours.
“The situation in Kootenai County has a lot to do with whether or not a particular property or area is above the aquifer,” Fillios said. “If the properties are above the aquifer, which extends to Washington, generally such wells, and especially since many are on lots of at least five acres, are generally acceptable. When you come out of this sphere, the situation is different.
Conserving water could mean getting rid of lawns
Idahoans may need to start considering other steps they can take to protect the water supply.
For example, many homeowners associations have requirements to keep neighborhoods aesthetically similar, and lawns are one of them, but keeping that fresh and green look means wasting water, according to Ridgeway.
He said when farmland is turned into new subdivisions, the water rights purchased with that land are used to install ponds that supply neighborhood sprinkler systems.
“They’re all required to put sprinklers in to water their lawns, and they get water from these ponds,” Ridgeway said. “But 10 years ago, before this housing estate was built, it was a farmer’s field. All the irrigation that was going on there was flood irrigation, and it eventually went back into the aquifer. With sprinklers, it never goes back to the aquifer because you just put in (take out) enough water to water your lawn and trees.
Miranda Gold, a former Eagle City Council member, agreed with Ridgeway, saying she believed the amount of water used for landscaping had an impact on water security in the area. . Ridgeway said many people at Eagle, if they can, replace their grass with species native to the arid high desert habitat of Treasure Valley. The switch, often referred to as xeriscaping, allows for custom landscaping without requiring as much water.
In 2008, the City of Moscow established its Wisescape Concepts program to encourage water conservation through landscaping specifically for the Palouse. Latah County also relies on aquifers to support its growing population, but they are not recharging fast enough, according to Moscow Public Works and Services.
The concepts used in xeriscaping still allow for an aesthetically pleasing environment, but they also help create biodiversity, save water, reduce someone’s carbon footprint, and save time on maintenance. garden, according to the Moscow City website.
“We like to use a lot of water here,” Gold said. “Especially in areas like Star and Eagle which are developing a lot. They want low density housing and big lawns and lots of nice landscaping and things like that. It takes a lot of water because it’s not the natural landscape of our region.