A reservoir within a reservoir

For those of you who have some type of investment portfolio I am sure you have heard the term “diversify”, or if you are like me and don’t really have to deal with the headaches of retirement planning you might recognize the saying “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” Essentially they are the same piece of advice, the basic idea being that trusting only one plan is a poor idea because if “the best laid plans of mice and men” should fail, all of your resources are diminished and there is no back up resource to draw from.

Recently Mayor Marc Beitia has been exploring the idea of increasing the amount of water in the American Falls Reservoir by having water moved down from Jackson Lake in high water years. This plan would not be used in low water years. Keeping the water level higher, in theory, would help maintain the health of fish, prevent sediment flushing, and increase economic activity by encouraging late season recreation.

Water managers and irrigators along the Snake River Basin are against the plan because water is hard to move back uphill. Managers say it is too difficult to predict what the next water year will look like, and that moving water down from Jackson Lake late in the season may lead to a shortage if Jackson Lake does not fill up the following year.

It is repeated frequently, with great justification, farmers are the lifeblood of our community. Any idea that will damage the producers of the state will always be met with strong resistance because of the importance of farming to this community and others like it.

The idea of moving water in a way that would endanger farmers is simply not going to happen.

On the other hand Beitia is correct; there is a large enough population base in American Falls that depends on non-agricultural business or businesses only tangentially related to agriculture that their needs cannot be ignored. There are needs for jobs and business opportunities in this area that are not dependent on the commodities market. There is nothing wrong with agricultural based jobs, but not everyone can or wants to work in those fields (literally or figuratively).

We do however have a resource in the water that comes into the reservoir that can multi task. We already see the uses people make of the reservoir, and we see the problems of accessing the water later in the season. Not using that resource to its fullest means that all of our eggs are in one basket. At this time everyone loses out in low water years. Yields are lower because of early water shut-off and our recreation income is lower because there is no place to boat or fish.

I suggest we look at creating a sub-reservoir. This would require creating a retention wall that would segregate a section of the reservoir so that as water levels drop the water inside the sub-reservoir would be held longer. This water belongs to a farmer somewhere in the Treasure Valley and so we could not hold it permanently. A control structure like a lock would have to be built at the lowest point to allow the water to be released when it is requested from downstream users.

The advantage is that accessible levels of water would be held closer to the shore for a longer period of time. This translates to a more dependable body of water that in turn could foster businesses like bait and tackle shops, boat sales and repair, or other recreational services. The hope is there will be enough traffic to necessitate more hotel rooms and restaurants in American Falls. Bottom line: more jobs.

There are certainly logistical issues to work out and this is a plan that would most likely take years to accomplish, but I believe a long planning period may actually be an advantage. I had the opportunity to tour the recently completed booster station and the current state of the wastewater treatment plant with American Falls Water and Wastewater Superintendent Pete Cortez. In our conversation about water usage in American Falls, Cortez talked about his plans for the future of water use. One of the advantages of a modern wastewater system is that the treated water comes out much cleaner than in years past. Cortez would like to convert the irrigation systems for the city parks and golf course over to reuse water.

Many cities already use this system for their parks systems. The general idea is that treated water is used for landscape irrigation. Water fountains would still use potable water from the city drinking water supply. This could save millions of gallons of water each year. That water will eventually be used by residents and businesses as American Falls grows. In the present, if American Falls were to remove over a million gallons of water per year from our usage that water would have to go somewhere, why not into the sub-reservoir? This would be water that would not have to be released on demand from a water right owner downstream, further increasing the dependability of the sub-reservoir as a recreational economic center.

Intertwining the two ideas could lead to a whole new era of economic growth for American Falls, but the real point is not whether the idea will work or not, although I hope it will. The point is that looking at alternative possibilities will lead to results. Continuing to operate in the same mode without thinking of changing or expanding only leads to one place: stagnation.

The other point is that no matter how scary change may seem, it behooves us all to control the knee-jerking and actually give new ideas and concepts a fair shake.

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