Local irrigation district demanding new developments use canal water to irrigate lawns

SHELLEY — Homes in the city are using 1300 gallons of city water per day during the summer. A new requirement for developers could change that.

Shelley landowners are part of the Snake River Valley Irrigation District, meaning their properties have water rights tied to them. But because the city doesn’t have an ordinance requiring developers to use those water rights, many have opted out leaving small residential lot owners to use city water to irrigate their lawns. Now the SRVID is prohibiting developers of any sized lot from opting out, possibly incentivizing them to use canal water for irrigation instead of city water.

“We now require new development remain in our district and continue to pay the tax for such water,” Snake River Valley Irrigation District manager Steve Neilson said.

The city of Shelley agrees with SRVID that developers within the city limits need to use the district’s water to irrigate their lawn.

“It’s a good idea,” Shelley Mayor Stacey Pascoe said. “This will allow the city’s water to go a lot further than it does today.”

New development along SRVID’s Cedar Point Canal north of Shelley,
Photo: Community Pioneer

Some lots in the city’s older section have access to ditches that run from SRVID’s canals.  These properties are still within the district, and their owners pay a tax for the water right. 

“Individual homes within the city use an average of 175 gallons of water per day during the winter months.  However, during the summer months, the average home uses 1300 gallons per day,” City of Shelley engineer Dave Noel of Forsgren Engineering, said. “If you were to remove this extra demand, your water rights would go a lot further.” 

“It’s my opinion that we need a secondary irrigation system in new developments to preserve these water rights in the long run,” Councilman Leaf Watson said.

Aside from the potential benefit to the city’s water supply by using more canal water, continuing to allow landowners to opt-out could have potentially negative consequences.

“Not only are we losing our tax base, but we may lose the water that is associated with this land,” Neilson said.

Shelley City Councilman Leaf Watson said he believes that by requiring developers to remain in the irrigation district and hopefully using canal water for irrigation the water rights will be preserved.

SRVID has water rights assigned to the land within their district. Unlike a canal company, these water rights are tied to the land. The property owner is obligated to pay a tax for such water.

SRVID’s area runs between Gem Lake and Firth.  It includes all land lying east of the river out to the Sand Creek area east of Shelley. 

The district maintains two canals – the Cedar Point Canal and the Snake River Canal.   The Snake River lateral splits and runs on both sides of the butte, east of Shelley.  These canals bisect the area irrigating land all the way to Kimball Hill, which is south of Firth.

SRVID has some of the most secure water rights in the upper Snake River Valley area because the district has some of the oldest water rights for use and storage water that is at the lowest point in the area’s reservoirs.

“We have 1889 rights that are at the bottom of the American Falls, Jackson, and Palisades Reservoirs,” Neilson said. 

At present, the city is looking to SRVID to force new development to retain their water right and construct a secondary system.  The city currently has no ordinance requiring a secondary water system on new development. 

Snake River Valley Irrigation District’s Boundry Map. Aerial Map provided by the Idaho Department of Water Resource

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