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Field Notes: Compiling A Video 'Water Handbook' For Idaho

(Editor’s note: EarthFix Field Notes are reporters’ personal impressions and experiences from their coverage of the Pacific Northwest. In this entry, Idaho-based Producer Aaron Kunz takes a close look at water’s scenic value, its importance to the economy, and its function as the veins and arteries of southern Idaho’s arid sagebrush steppe.)

We knew that telling the story of water would be difficult. It took multiple rewrites of the script and more than a year of production. Now as I wrap up work on this second episode for the 31st season of Outdoor Idaho, I can say it was much harder than I originally imagined.

It was during filming of the salmon show in 2011 that I realized that water issues were critical to returning self-sustaining populations of salmon to Idaho’s rivers. So I pitched the water story to the team as a full show to air in 2013. As a reporter for EarthFix, an environmental reporting collaboration among public media stations here in the Northwest, I started covering water issues for radio and online stories in 2012. Each time I produced one of these radio stories, I took a video camera along in hopes that I could use the footage I came away with.

I ended up shooting well over 100 hours of video and interviews that needed to be condensed to a half hour. The hardest part of producing a show like this is telling more than a century’s worth of complex and often controversial history of water.

The first copy of the script was more than an hour long and still only hit on the highlights. It took more ruthless cutting and rewriting to get the show compressed to 30-minutes. Sadly, stories like the 100-year old water gauge on the Boise River and loss of funding for water gauges during the 2013 federal across-the-board budget cuts didn’t make the final cut.

I also had to trim the back-story on a conservation project in central Idaho that helps farmers convert their farms to modern sprinkler systems. That doesn’t mean the sections left on the cutting room floor weren’t important. Just that we didn’t have time to tell it all.

My intent with this program is to give viewers a good idea of the complex nature of water in Idaho. It's interesting how our earliest European-American settlers were compelled to move water out of rivers and streams to irrigate Idaho's southern desert. It was quite the feat to dig thousands of miles of canals to water land once covered in sagebrush.

Billions of dollars were spent to build the dozens of dams and reservoirs in the state. Today we depend on water to produce energy and water is necessary to help feed recreation and municipal growth.

If the issue itself wasn't hard enough, throw in the many federal, state and local agencies involved in discussions over water. We’ve learned that it’s hard to get consensus on even the smallest changes that appear from the surface to help solve a problem. I even hope to describe unintentional consequences of decisions we have made in the past that helps drive debates over water today.

Copyright 2020 EarthFix. To see more, visit .

Farmers in the West are learning that to use less water. To accomplish that, some farmers are ending their use of flood irrigation in favor of sprinkler pivots like this.
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Farmers in the West are learning that to use less water. To accomplish that, some farmers are ending their use of flood irrigation in favor of sprinkler pivots like this.

Rick Eddy, a suction dredge miner from California, looks for gold on a section of the Salmon River. The Environmental Protection Agency closed the river to this type of activity in 2013.
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Rick Eddy, a suction dredge miner from California, looks for gold on a section of the Salmon River. The Environmental Protection Agency closed the river to this type of activity in 2013.

In the last century, we have spent millions building large dams to generate electricity and store water for farm fields.
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In the last century, we have spent millions building large dams to generate electricity and store water for farm fields.

The U.S. Geological Survey uses water gauges like this on Lapwai Creek to monitor water flowing in rivers and streams.
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The U.S. Geological Survey uses water gauges like this on Lapwai Creek to monitor water flowing in rivers and streams.

Aaron Kunz