Led by Kootenai Environmental Alliance, regional conservation groups filed comments June 10th with the Idaho Water Resources Board on the draft Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan for our local Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.   According to the comments, the plan is “not specific enough, not enforceable enough, and doesn’t go far enough to properly protect the aquifer resources.” The comments expressed concern that the plan would prove to be insufficient to protect the aquifer over the plan’s long-term planning horizon.  KEA was joined by Spokane Riverkeeper, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper and the Lands Council in comments to the Water Board.

The Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer is the sole source of drinking water to more than a half-million people in the corridor from Coeur d’Alene to Spokane.  A unique and valuable resource, it is a plentiful water supply but it is not infinite. Pressures on the resource are already being felt as cool clean water from the aquifer returns to the Spokane River in ever-decreasing amounts.

The draft CAMP, under development for a year by an advisory committee appointed by the Water Board, has express goals to:  (1) Provide reliable sources of water, projecting 50 years in to the future, (2) Develop strategies to avoid conflicts over water resources, (3) Prioritize future state investments in water, and (4) Bridge the gaps between future water needs and supply.  The conservation community’s comments agreed with the goals, but were critical of the CAMP’s lack of specifics in meeting these goals.

The comments (available here) criticized the draft CAMP’s lack of specific measures for water conservation, lack of specific language limiting water exports from the aquifer to other basins, and lack of specific language about water quality protections of our sole-source aquifer.

In addition, the comments were sharply critical of the CAMP’s blithe acceptance of “artificial recharge” as a potential solution to demand pressures on the aquifer. A proposal to recharge the aquifer with Lake Pend Oreille water using a $90 million pipeline and injection scheme has already been floated.  The conservationists commented:

Artificial recharge projects should not be a substitute for proper aquifer management, development regulations, and water conservation programs and requirements. Again, we believe, at the very least, the CAMP should be specific about circumstances, triggers, standards, legalities, and limitations for such projects. The CAMP should make it clear that major artificial recharge projects should be a last resort, and should be considered only as a temporary, emergency, short-term solution after all other efforts have failed.

The CAMP advisory group meets in Coeur d’Alene this week to review and consider comments.