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Water, the West, and conjunctive management

Water and golf courses have always been a sore subject to approach in Idaho and the western states. There has always been a push toward water conservation, but now we are dealing with a new situation: conjunctive management. Conjunctive management primarily changes the timing of the flow of existing water sources by shifting the timing and location where it is stored, it and does not result in new sources of water. For example, it gives the user the opportunity to direct surface water into the ground by direct injection or percolation, therefore becoming groundwater. With properly placed flow meters, one can monitor how much water they are directing into the aquifer for future use from a well.

We have always had a well on our property that we have the right to use, however we mainly rely on surface water. We have the oldest water rights that are available in our state and since we live in the mountains, we don’t usually need water until late April or May most years. This doesn’t hold true every year. The winter of 2007 was especially hard because of the lack of snowfall, and we had to get water much earlier … the second week of March. We were not able to call for our surface water rights at that time because of inaccessibility, so we had to use our well. Since that time, there has been talk of conjunctive management getting forced upon everyone in the state.
Rather than sit around and wait for the state to tell us what we will have to do with our conjunctive management practices, we have taken a proactive step to do what is necessary now. We hired a water rights attorney a few years ago, and we have worked with him through the Idaho Department of Water Resources to take the necessary steps toward proper management. This included installing a flow meter on our well pump, and also installing meters that monitor the flow entering and exiting our property, and meters on our surface water pumps.

The biggest step that we took was installing a recharge pond. This means that we will be able to put water into the ground and it will percolate into the aquifer. We will then be able to use our well for ground water when we don’t have surface water. This is an arduous process, but well worth it in the end. We were lucky enough to have a plot of land (about 2 acres) that was all native and out of play before we started.

With the help of a water engineer, we were able to dig test plots to find out how deep we needed to dig to get the necessary percolation. An excavation company came in and hollowed out two cavities about 3 feet deep and square in shape. The cavities looked much like a house foundation before the concrete is poured. Gravel was then added to the site at about 4 inches deep. The next step was to install the pipes that would deliver the water into the ground. They drilled one-half-inch holes in the pipe on four foot centers. The pipe was then laid in the cavity about 5 feet apart. The pipe was covered with enough gravel to cover the pipe plus an additional 4 inches to cover the pipe. They finished off the site with topsoil that was removed at the start of the project and left on-site. The pipes were hooked up to a pumping system that was filtered and could be micro-adjusted with the turn of a dial. The system only runs about 200 gallons a minute when it is turned on. We have meters on the system so we can see exactly how much water we are returning to the aquifer. We haven’t used the system yet except to make sure that it works.

Although the process was long, costly, and very cold to do in the winter, we feel that the end result was well worth the effort. The State of Idaho has been saying conjunctive management is inevitable so it is better to be ahead of the curve instead of being surprised and have to scramble to put everything together at the last minute. The State of Idaho relies heavily on agriculture and sometimes has water issues. There are many other states that are having the same problems, so it might be advantageous to see what your state may be looking into so that you can also be ready if something comes up in the future.

Cameron is the Assistant Superintendent at The Valley Club in Hailey, Idaho.

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