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Idaho’s Water: Supply and Quality in a Time of Growth

April 17, 2018 from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm

Reception to follow from 4:00 – 6:00 pm

Boise State University Student Union Building

Simplot Ballroom, 2nd floor

Parking will be free in the Lincoln Garage across from the Student Union

$50 Registration Fee –> You can Register Online here!



For many years, Idaho has been among the country’s fastest-growing states. Now, literally, we are at the top of the list: the fastest growing state in America. What are the implications for Idaho’s surface water supply and the health of our streams and rivers?

As population expands in places like our Treasure Valley, the irrigated agricultural land is shrinking, replaced by residential subdivisions, commercial developments, and associated infrastructure. The irrigation districts and canal companies holding surface water rights for these areas increasingly manage their canal systems to supply irrigation water to subdivision lawns and landscaping where farm fields once existed. This has several advantages to homeowners, including low-cost irrigation water, and it avoids using groundwater (including treated municipal water) for this purpose.

But subdivisions and commercial areas contain far fewer irrigated acres than the farming operations they replace. In other western states, this routinely results in transferring a corresponding portion of the parcel’s water right to a new use. Idaho follows essentially the same legal principles: water diverted from a river must be put to use; excessive diversions are disallowed; transfers may occur. Logically, reduced irrigated acres should entail reduced diversions and, accordingly, portions of water rights freed up for other uses.

However, this typically is not what happens in Idaho. The Idaho approach has been described as one where the irrigation entities continue diverting river water to “gross acres”—the original lands within the irrigation entity’s overall boundary—rather than to those acres now actually irrigated.

Is Idaho missing economic opportunities by failing to move unneeded water to new uses? What are the water supply implications? Are we unnecessarily releasing stored water that is diverted into a canal but ultimately not being put to use? Might we eventually lose control of diverted but unused water? And what are the water quality challenges we face on the Boise and middle Snake Rivers? Is water quality affected if river water is diverted through urban areas and then not consumed by crops or lawns?


The purpose of this Andrus Center conference is to hear perspectives on this issue from irrigation entities, cities, state officials, water experts from other states, the federal Bureau of Reclamation, and others with experience in water delivery and management. The goal is to fashion a means of gathering information about the Treasure Valley’s changing irrigation water use and its implications for both water supplies and water quality. This would define the scope of the problem and allow informed decisions to address it.


The conference is open to the public on a first-come basis. We anticipate attendance from irrigation districts, cities, municipal water providers, water quality and water supply professionals, the State, the Bureau of Reclamation and other federal agencies, Idaho Power Company, and citizens interested in the health of the Boise River and the challenge of providing water supplies for our future.



8:00 – 9:00          Registration & Breakfast

9:00 – 9:15           Introduction
John Freemuth, Executive Director, Andrus Center for Public Policy

9:15 – 10:30         How is water supply affected by the continued reduction in acres of irrigated agricultural land?
Michael Creamer, Givens Pursley
Mat Weaver, Idaho Department of Water Resources
Dan Steenson, Treasure Valley Water Users Association

10:30 – 10:45       Morning Break

10:45 – 12:00      How are other states dealing with changes in water use and growth?
David Robbins, Hill & Robbins, P.C.
Doug Keeney, Western Water Policy Program

12:00 – 12:15      Lunch Buffet

12:15 – 1:15          Lunch Keynote Speaker
Roland Springer, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

1:15 – 1:30           Afternoon Break

1:30 – 2:45          What are the water quality implications of the urbanization of agricultural land?
Dick Manning, Environmental Author and Journalist
John Hildreth, Idaho Power
Stephen Burgos, City of Boise
Hawk Stone, Department of Environmental Equality

2:45 – 3:45         Closing Keynote
Patricia Limerick, Center of the American West at the University of Colorado, Boulder

3:45-4:00           Closing Remarks

4:00-6:00          Reception

Registration now open!
Conference Report (Coming Fall 2018)

Conference Sponsors

Bronze Level Sponsors


Questions? Contact Katherine Robb, Andrus Center, 208-426-3784;