The Idaho Department of Fish and Game has issued a salvage order, allowing fish to be harvested from the Big Wood River and Richfield Canal in the Wood River Valley. Quite simply, the fish will soon die now that the Magic Reservoir in southern Blaine County has dropped to below 3 percent of capacity. As a result, the irrigation season has come to a halt and water flows have been shut off below the Magic Dam to the Big Wood River and the Richfield Canal.
The Idaho Mountain Express reports the Hemingway Chapter of Trout Unlimited will attempt a fish rescue operation.
And surprisingly, the West Magic Resort insists "ample" water in the reservoir still yields plenty of recreation.
"Contrary to popular belief, there is plenty of water to fish, ski or whatever suits your fancy," the resort told the Mountain Express.
All in, the Magic Reservoir has a capacity for 191,500 acre-feet of water.
Officials say now that the season's irrigation has come to an end, the reservoir is slowly refilling. Area farmers were able to get three more weeks of irrigation this season, compared to last year, to water their corn, alfalfa, hay, barley and wheat crops.
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In this week's edition of Boise Weekly, readers learned about Senate Bill 1337, also known as the "ag-gag" bill, which criminalizes undercover photography and filming at Idaho farms and dairies.
The bill is a response to actions by Mercy For Animals, an animal rights organization that during the course of an investigation into Bettencourt Dairies in 2012 witnessed workers and managers abusing—and in some cases sexually assaulting—dairy cows.
BW chatted with MFA Director of Investigations Matt Rice, who spearheaded the Bettencourt investigation, in which members of the organization applied for and received work at the dairy. The activists used their real names and Social Security numbers when applying for work, and performed whatever jobs were asked of them while secretly filming. They were legal employees, and under current Idaho law, their clandestine filming operations were, at most, fireable offenses. Under SB 1337, they would would have netted them large fines or even jail time.
"Our investigators are given very specific instructions: Go to work and document the conditions. They are the eyes and ears for the public, who are kept largely in the dark," Rice said.
Bettencourt Dairies was MFA's fourth dairy farm investigation (to date, MFA has investigated five). At all five dairies, MFA's investigations have revealed cruel conditions for animals and resulted in criminal convictions for workers and managers.
"The shocking thing is, every single time our documenters get hired, they find things that shock most Americans," Rice said. "It makes it very plain that there's a huge problem in the factory farming industry."
Rice said SB 1337 only highlights that problem by drawing a curtain of legality around the issue. Under the ag-gag rule, dairies could ask for criminal charges to be brought against employees who blow the whistle on animal abuse using photo or video evidence—up to a year in jail and fines of up to $5,000.
"It really is a transparent attempt by the industry to keep their cruel practices hidden from the public," he said.
The proposed law would have another effect: chilling First Amendment freedoms. MFA's investigator was employed at Bettencourt Dairies while documenting animal abuse; passing SB 1337 would amount to a de facto nondisclosure agreement between dairy employees and management.
"What these industries want to do is have the power to put you in prison for taking a picture against their rules. It violates freedom of speech and freedom of the press. [SB 1337] will be challenged in court and it will cost taxpayers a lot of money," Rice said.
Keeping the Treasure Valley flush with irrigated fields and green landscapes isn't getting any cheaper. The Pioneer Irrigation District, which pumps water to more than 34,000 acres throughout Canyon county and Western Ada County, is raising its 2013 irrigation assessment by $5 per acre, citing rising costs of electricity, fuels, chemicals, taxes and insurance. It's the first increase in five years and a 7.6 percent increase over the 2012 assessment.
The Pioneer Irrigation District Board of Directors set the 2013 operation and maintenance assessments at $71 per acre but did not increase the assessment expense charge of $20 per account. The 2013 assessment means the cost for a 1-acre or smaller lot will be approximately $91 while cost for an 80-acre parcel would go up by about $400.
Assessment notices will go out to Pioneer patrons in October. Property owners can pay the assessment in full by Friday, Dec. 20, or in two payments: the first half by December 20 and the remainder by Friday, June 20, 2014.
The District currently maintains about 5,800 accounts.
Approximately 340,000 acres of potato seed has been planted in Idaho this year—that's down from 340,000 acres in 2012—but those whose business it is to measure such things say 2013 should yield "a good quality crop with average yields."
The Idaho Falls Post Register reports that a cold spring postponed planting by several weeks, resulting in a later harvest this year.
As of last week, only 2 percent of eastern Idaho's crop had been harvested, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Statewide, only 5 percent of the spud crop has been dug, down from 9 percent this time last year.
"This year, we expect yields within the five-year average," Idaho Potato Commission President Frank Muir told the Post Register. "I think it will supply all the customers' needs without putting any undue pressure on prices. I think we'll have a good quality crop that is just about the right size."
University of idaho Extension Educator Lance Ellis told the Post Register that a number of Idaho's drought-stricken regions were helped with what he called "adequate water storage."
"Farmers were able to get what they needed early on," Ellis told the Post Register. "Without that storage, we would not have been able to do what (was needed)."
In Eastern Oregon, the controversy over a patch of genetically modified wheat has simmered down, and while some Asian buyers stopped placing orders for a few months, markets are back to normal and farmers are preparing to plant a new crop of wheat in the next few weeks. But the mystery over the GMO wheat and its origin remains.
The Associated Press reports that speculation on just how the GMO crop got to to Eastern Oregon "ranges from saboteurs to a passing flock of geese," but the U.S. Department of Agriculture said its investigation is ongoing.
Earlier this year, an unidentified farmer sent a sample from his crop to Oregon State University, where the wheat was determined to be genetically modified and the USDA confirmed the finding.
Darren Padget, a member of the Oregon Wheat Commission that he's glad the farmer notified authorities, rather than plowing the GMO wheat into the ground and keeping his mouth shut.
"Everybody's a little more vigilant now than they were before," Padget told the AP.
In April 2011, Boise Weekly chronicled what the Food and Drug Administration told BW was an "important potential public health issue" — an alarming amount of drug or antibiotic residues exceeding a safe or tolerable level in Idaho cows. BW's investigation found that there were 40 incidents reported at Idaho farms, including eight separate drugs and 11 violations of illegal limits of penicillin in the kidney alone. Eight were traced to flunixin, an anti-inflammatory analgesic, and six violations were traced to sulfadimethoxine, an antibiotic. There were four separate violations of the use of gentamicin (any trace of the drug is a violation). There were four more violations of tilmicosin (though it's not officially banned, its tolerance level is zero).
Some of the violations were off the charts. In July 2010, the FSIS discovered residue of flunixin in a cow traced to the Double A Dairy in Jerome. FSIS said the cow had flunixin 2,000 percent more than the allowed level. In another violation, a dairy cow traced back to a beef auction at the Producers Livestock Marketing Association in Jerome had sulfamethazine in its liver at 27,000 percent higher than the legal level.
This morning, the Associated Press reports that two Idaho cattle and dairy operations have agreed to "stop drugging cows at such high levels that the medications could pass to human consumers."
The agreement is part of a settlement to a lawsuit from the FDA, which accused T & T Cattle and T & T Cattle Pearl, both of Parma. The Food and Drug Administration alleged that animals at the farms contained "residues of unsafe new animal drugs [that] can cause serious allergic reactions in drug-sensitive consumers." The lawsuits came in the wake of a July 2012 report of high drug residue levels.
The AP's Rebecca Boone reports that the stipulation says a federal court will have oversight over the farm for five years, and that any future violations will cost the farms $1,000 a day until they are fixed.
Those looking to escape the heat at Lucky Peak are being cautioned that water levels will begin dropping a month earlier than usual, as water operations managers of the Boise River reservoir system will begin releasing water from Lucky Peak Reservoir this coming Monday, July 22, to meet the region's irrigation needs.
Reservoir elevation is expected to drop about one to two feet each day once releases begin. The early need for irrigation water is a result of drought conditions throughout the Boise River watershed, which received only about 50 to 55 percent of its normal water supply.
As water levels lower to a point where a boat ramp can't be safely used, we will close it," said Keith Hyde, Lucky Peak park manager. "While the drop in elevation will start slowly for a few days, it will soon lower the lake elevation to a level where boat ramps will be affected."
Normal reservoir elevation is 3,055 feet. The first boat ramp to be affected will be Robie Creek, when levels fall below 3,046 feet. Turner Gulch’s ramp, at 2,905 feet, will be the last to close, if at all, depending on irrigation needs and future inflows.