Raised on a Rupert farm, Lynn Tominaga has devoted his career to helping farmers throughout the Eastern Snake Plain maintain their access to a crucial and uncertain agricultural input — an adequate water supply.
Tominaga will retire on July 1 after more than two decades as executive director of Idaho Groundwater Appropriators Inc. He’ll be replaced by Bob Turner, a retired Idaho Falls banker.
Under Tominaga’s leadership, IGWA entered into a groundbreaking 2016 settlement agreement resolving a water call by the Surface Water Coalition that threatened well irrigators throughout the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. The ESPA supplies irrigation water to about 2 million acres of farmland, and the settlement put an end to decades of litigation.
Under the terms of the agreement, IGWA members were allowed to continue pumping from their wells in exchange for reducing their annual consumption by 12% on average, leasing and delivering 50,000 acre-feet of storage water annually to the coalition and metering wells, among other steps. Furthermore, the state committed to supplement the declining aquifer by allowing 250,000 acre-feet of surface water to seep into the water table on an annual basis — a process known as managed aquifer recharge.
The importance of water in western life can’t overstated, in Tominaga’s estimation.
“Water isn’t very sexy, but it’s one of the major elements in development. ... If you don’t have access to water, you’re not going to be able to develop,” Tominaga said.
Tominaga was born in Blackfoot. His father and uncle farmed together in the Pingree area until his father moved the family to Rupert when Tominaga was about 5. His father bought the Rupert farm, where they primarily raised potatoes, for $99 per acre.
“After we’d been there for three or four years, he got a dreaded disease called scab. My dad lost his shirt that year because he had scab on all of the potatoes,” Tominaga said, explaining the disease simply affected the appearance of the spuds, but the family still had to sell their harvest for roughly half of their production cost.
For her part, Tominaga’s mother strove to find creative ways to keep her family fed with the unwanted spuds.
“I never knew you could fix potatoes in so many ways,” Tominaga joked.
Fortunately, the farm survived until Tominaga’s brother sold it in 2002. Tominaga left the farm for college after his father died in 1972. He was elected student body president at University of Idaho, where he earned a bachelor’s of science in agronomy.
Tominaga became interested in water based on the overarching Swan Falls settlement of 1984, which was described as the “most convulsive water conflict in Idaho’s history” and triggered the exhaustive Snake River Adjudication process.
Water was his primary campaign issue when Tominaga was elected to the state Senate that same year. He served until 1990, when he went to work for the Idaho Water Users Association and also started his own water consulting business.
Working in water rights provided Tominaga an opportunity to help people in an arena rife with contention.
Tominaga joined IGWA in 2000.
After he retires, Tominaga and his wife, Brenda, plan to move to either the Oregon Coast or the Washington Coast to be nearer to their grandchildren.
After a string of wet years, Tominaga will be stepping down from his position amid an extremely dry season. While there should be enough storage water to get irrigators through the current year, he worries that another year of drought could put Idaho in the same position as California, Nevada, New Mexico and Arizona, which are now experiencing serious drought-related problems.
Due to dry weather in March and April, the Upper Snake reservoirs started the current season at just 90% full. Last year, several canal companies leased a combined 70,000 acre-feet of storage water to Idaho Power at $20 per acre-foot.
Currently, water is being leased for $67.30 per-acre foot, counting fees, from the Upper Snake reassignment pool. Tominaga explained rules were recently changed to make the system’s rental pool water available only to storage holders. The reassignment pool now serves the needs of those seeking water who are outside of Water District 1.