Elected officials working
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Meeting Minutes
September 24, 2008

Attendees

  • Phil Bandy
  • John Bechtel
  • Dave Bieter
  • Tom Dale
  • John Evans
  • David Ferdinand
  • Brad Holton
  • Paul Woods

Staff and Guests

  • Lee Belt
  • Tom Berry
  • Ed Squires
  • Bill Larsen – Staff

Brad Holton welcomed everyone to Greenleaf for the Partnership meeting. He mentioned that the cities of Wilder and Greenleaf did a lot of things together including holding joint council meetings. In addition, the cities jointly fund a city police force that says Greenleaf and Wilder Police on the side.

John reiterated that they do welcome the Partnership and the special guests to Greenleaf. He said they had Salmon flown in for the meeting and that there was an alternate meal consisting of MRE’s for the choosing.

Brad indicated that in Greenleaf they have the city divided up into “Care Hoods”. It is kind of like Community Watch but goes much deeper. We know the resources in each of the areas of the City. For example, if people are sick, who to contact, and if there is a disaster, who is stuck in their house and cannot get out. They have 100% participation across the City in Care Hoods.

Another thing that came out of that, they have developed their own emergency contact list that they pass out to residents.

Brad stated, during the last meeting, that we would invite someone who has knowledge of water rights and well drilling practices come to this meeting. The person he knows is Ed Sprague and introduced him as the water guru of the Treasure Valley.

Paul mentioned he wanted to update everyone on the ruling from the Snake River Basin Adjudication case in respect to Lucky Peak. We prevailed in keeping the water right for recreational and winter flow purposes. Brad mentioned that this is a very interesting judgment just before the Water Summit.

Ed said he would build on what Paul said. The recent decisions coming out of the Dept. of Water Resources and Director David Tuthill have been astoundingly good decisions for cities. He thinks that the Director needs a lot of support in this. The Director is beset upon by irrigation entities, and he does not get a lot of support. Things like the City of Eagle case and A&B Irrigation case, the decisions are complete turnarounds that are going to save Cities enormous efforts and money.

They are taking away decades old statutes that are no good for cities and that hold them hostage. In 1964 there was an act called the Ground Water Act. Before this act there was a protection, there were cases that said that you could not interfere with Artesian pressure. When you get many wells in an area, you gradually lower the water level for each one them. So this decree made the rule you could not lower someone’s water level without compensation.

So these new cases are diminishing these archaic rules. One of the recent cases indicates that water levels are not protected. There is a “reasonable” level in which water levels can be lowered by other well activity. Many wells are drilled into the top of the aquifer that can be as much as 300 feet thick. Under preexisting rules, you would not have to deepen your well as a result of additional wells being added and the water level gets lowered.

The irrigation entities are opposed to these regulations as this idea of reasonableness might come to play in the surface water world. There would not be this monopoly of surface water if you are not using it and there would be some reasonable distribution of the waters. This is something he believes the cities should be very active in.

Phil mentioned that in Eagle there are a number of free flowing artesian wells. By doing something, you might impact the water level and they have been going round and round in these water cases for numerous years.

The point is that you should not be able to hold the whole aquifer hostage because you only drilled in to the very first few feet of the aquifer. You ought to be required to deepen your wells. And this is one of the things the Department is saying that we need to look at. He thinks this is positive.

In the A&B case there is some new rulings on well construction. How well construction can have an effect on water rights and artesian heads. This is a case worth reading.

Ed stated that he wanted to talk about well construction. Not because the cities have a problem with well construction. There are regulations out of DEQ that require municipal wells to be drilled and constructed in a certain way. Unfortunately the number of wells drilled by cities are a drop in the bucket of the total number of wells that are being drilled. For example there might be 12 municipal wells drilled in the treasure valley in a year and there might be 1000 domestic wells in a year.

Domestic wells are not subject to the same criteria and are not drilled to the same standards as municipal wells. These domestic wells by and large are going to be the cause if the aquifer gets contaminated. Various directors have tried to change the drilling rules for many years. He has been a part of many of these initiatives. The drilling community has prevented these rules from being improved over the years.

Ed stated that this is a very complicated subject and he was going to keep his presentation about the rudiments and the basics of well construction.

David indicated that they have been dealing with contamination of the aquifer. They have a huge problem out by purple sage with a high nitrate priority area. The neighbor hood has spent $200,000 to fix their well and someone 100 yards away has been given a water permit for a domestic well by IDWR. This is the agency that has to stop this process.

Ed indicated that they are trying, but in many cases they are not even knowledgeable about a new well. The drillers have a program called the Start Card Program. They can drop a card in the mail on a Friday afternoon and the well can be drilled to 1,000 feet by Monday before the department receives the Start Card. These wells are not required to be built to the standards of municipal wells.

Ed stated that he has a pet peeve with regard to setback requirements. Because the reason for the setbacks is that deep down there is knowledge that these wells are not sealed. He was going to show during the meeting about how unsealed these wells are. This silent danger is the single biggest threat to the aquifer. There are 1,000 wells a year that poke through all the protective layers and are blowing the aquifer formations apart. Outside these well casing there are huge voids. The proof is there. But it is a livelihood with a whole profession that is built on drilling these cheap wells. But the biggest concern of the drillers is that if you make wells the proper way, no one would be able to afford them.

They do not want to handle a bigger casing and do not want to get a mud pump if they don’t have to. The real money is in drilling the holes.

There are about seven different drilling methods and most of these domestic wells are utilizing the following technique. Ed then demonstrated on the chalkboard by drawing hole that is drilled. In the case he demonstrated the casing is larger than the hole and the casing is literally being beaten into the ground. If you have a large enough hole and centralizers on the casing, this leaves room around the casing for well seal to go around the casing without there being gaps. This sealing of the casing helps prevent degradation of the aquifer zones.

In the Treasure Valley we have an alternating geologic section of sands and gravels. If you drill through these aquifer layers and do not put protective seals between the zones then the natural protective layering of the aquifer is compromised. The danger in these wells is that you don’t reestablish the seals you disrupt the natural protective layer that protects our aquifer.

When they develop test wells, they are finding that it is not just the anthropogenic contaminants (gas, nitrates, etc) we are finding that there are natural constituents that are problematic such as arsenic and uranium. The way we are currently building wells, we are allowing those contaminants to mix and move through the aquifer layers.

If we are going to get a handle on this contamination, he believes it is easy to keep these layers separated with good sound drilling practices.

He then drew a domestic well where there are a lot of openings between the casing and the surrounding sedimentary layers. The reason this looks like this is the wells are drilled with air. And they are done with a drill and drive method where the casing is just beat into the ground. When this is done, the air rushes up the space bringing the cuttings with it and mining the area in front of the casing. This causes the sands and sediments to be carried into the well.

The reason you do this, is you have to make a hole big enough to get the casing into the ground. What these wells do is they commingle the water between the levels of the aquifer that they go through. All these levels of the aquifer have different chemistries. This leads to the contamination of the aquifer as the water is transported between zones.

Phil mentioned that Director Tuthill indicated in a recent meeting that there is enough water in the valley to support a 6 million population. However the reason for this is the supply of surface water. Ed stated that the NY Canal is 2000 CFS, where a large production well is 2 CFS. If we do not start making inroads in the rights for surface water, we will lose the possibility.

Downstream on the Columbia, a city needed some water because the Snake is restrictive on the Oregon and Washington sides. The city could not get a water right, so they went to the Boise Valley and purchased a water right in perpetuity so they could take it out down on the Columbia. The SRBA is the coup-de-grass. Once this is finalized and those decrees are out there, we will know what is available and so do the people downstream. These are clear threats to Idaho’s water. If we don’t make inroads to keeping the water back and using it beneficially, then there will become downstream water rights that are dependent on it and they will call for it and they will get administered and we will not have it.

There is a 1996 statute called the Municipal Water Rights Act that only cities can take advantage of. To date, there is not one city that has taken advantage of it. Only M3 and Tamarack Resort have filed on it.

You can put in a planning horizon called a future needs application. For example, United Water filed a municipal needs application asking for a planning horizon of 50 years. Gordon Law advocates for a CMAP where all municipalities in the valley go together and file a future needs application package. Ed suggested that the cities and counties need to do this and take advantage of that special protection.

There are also other special protections in the act. It allows all your wells to be mutual points of diversion for all your other water rights associated with the other wells. So when a well goes down and does not produce any more, you do not loose that water right, it just automatically moves to the other well locations.

Ed then showed some video clips of well holes. It showed the shape of the borehole outside of the casing wall and that there were voids and it was not sealed. He also showed a well where there was a hole in the casing. It clearly showed the water entering and exiting the well along with contaminants that were moving freely between aquifer zones.

Phil asked what causes the holes in the casing? Ed indicated that there are several factors including corrosion, the steel being used is not as good as it used to, etc. Ed indicated that the future of wells is PVC. It is just a better material and not susceptible to corrosion.

Dave mentioned that there is a lot more storage of water underground. He asked of Ed sees this as a future storage option for Cities. Ed indicated that ASR (Aquifer Storage and Recovery) is complicated because of a number of factors. Whenever you try to pump something in, you plug things. But in Boise, there is one of the most applicable areas for ASR in the valley. Out by Micron, there is 500 feet of real course sediment that is a vessel that is waiting to be filled. The rest of the valley has high artesian pressures that do not lend itself easily to ASR.

In closing, Ed indicated that below the level of members of the group of the TVP, none of the reforms are going to happen. Tom asked if he had an opportunity to give this presentation to legislators. Ed indicated that he has only give a few presentations.

John moved to accept the minutes and financial report. Motion seconded and approved.

Meeting adjourned.