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Irrigation, aquaculture among top users of Idaho water

An Associated Press review shows the highest consumers of Idaho’s drinking water aren’t the people taking long showers, using their dishwasher or even those turning on their hoses for a green lawn. Instead, on a daily average, the state’s precious resource is being used the most for irrigation and aquaculture.

According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, Idaho’s top counties consuming the most drinking water are in southern Idaho, away from the state’s more populated regions and in the heart of the state’s deserts in the southern half. Top counties include Twin Falls, Jerome, Jefferson and Gooding counties.

Twin Falls County withdraws an estimated 962 million gallons a day for irrigation and 470 million gallons a day for aquaculture uses. In total, the county uses 1,461 million gallons of water. For comparison, a good-sized bathtub holds 50 gallons, and a million gallons would be 20,000 baths.

Idaho’s relatively low population and high rural makeup has meant that the state hasn’t had to build and maintain multiple large drinking water infrastructure systems. The state currently only has one such system, in Ada County, the state’s most populated county.

Yet that hasn’t meant Idaho doesn’t have a need to keep up maintaining its own drinking water system.

As a whole, Idaho trails the rest of the nation in money received from the federal government to help municipalities provide clean drinking water and sewage system. Still, the state has roughly $6 million sitting unspent after receiving around $178 million over five years from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Furthermore, the state has set aside more than a quarter of the federal funding — roughly $45 million — for projects outside of improving drinking water infrastructure. That set aside money is used to help keep track of water systems across the state, said Tim Wendland with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

“We’re such a small state, population wise, we don’t qualify for much more than the minimum federal amount,” he said.

Those federal dollars are given to the state to give to municipalities as loans to improve its water infrastructure. But despite the state’s high irrigation and aquaculture use, the majority of projects cities and counties seek out the federal funds is typically for pipe replacement. Even in Ada County, home to the state’s lone large water system, doesn’t even ask the federal government for loans for infrastructure improvement projects.

Rather officials use commercial market rather than the feds, Wendland said.

In other areas, though, the loans are valuable for emergencies. Most recently, the city of Ketchum requested a federal loan to replace their 70-year-old redwood pipes that lined its drinking water system.

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