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David Sparks Ph.d Aquifer and Idaho's ag economy
by David Sparks Ph.d, click here for bio

Program: Idaho Ag Today
Date: November 23, 2017

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The Snake River Plain Aquifer underlies the Snake River Plain, which extends from near the western boundary of Yellowstone National Park in eastern Idaho to the Idaho-Oregon border where the Snake River enters Hells Canyon. The Snake River Plain controls the economy of much of southern Idaho, north and west of Pocatello. Three million acres of farmland on the Snake River Plain are irrigated, with approximately one third from wells and the remaining two thirds from canals. This extensive irrigation system is the primary reason that Idaho has the highest per capita water consumption in the U.S. The Snake River Plain is underlain by fractured basalt lava flows. Within basalts, permeable zones are mainly the tops and bottoms of lava flows, with columnar jointing in between providing slower vertical transmission of water.

Don Brown helps manage one of Idaho’s best sites for adding surface water to the huge underground storage tank. “When it gets clear full it will come up another 2 feet but it really doesn’t ever go anywhere, it just stays, it statics out, it just stays there and just disappears in the lava rock.” Since the 1950s, Idaho's water managers have tried to add 250,000 acre-feet of water to the aquifer each year. In 2017 they will meet that minimum, plus some. Wesley Hitke, recharge program manager for the Idaho Department of Water Resources says that Idaho's agriculture economy is growing but … “without water, you can’t grow.”

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