Story and photos by Dianna Troyer
Decades ago, when farmers formed a board of directors overseeing the A&B Irrigation District and the Minidoka Irrigation District, they envisioned eventually owning the systems. They operated and maintained the infrastructure and gradually repaid the Bureau of Reclamation for construction costs.
Today, the managers of the 2 irrigation districts headquartered in Rupert are thankful for their forefathers’ foresight, especially when launching upgrades and maintenance projects after the irrigation season ends in October.
In 2021, their vision became reality when the bureau transferred title to the districts. The districts were the 1st in Idaho and among the 1st 4 nationwide to transfer title.
With the title transfer complete, the districts are no longer required to obtain permission from the bureau when making changes in the system.
“The transfer removed a layer of administration, streamlining operations,” says Dan Temple, 68, who worked as A&B manager for 24 years before retiring in 2021.
The title transfer also allows the districts to obtain financing from several sources and to also convey water for entities outside the district, says Dan Davidson, manager of the Minidoka district.
In both districts, teams of dedicated employees make it possible for farmers to grow sugar beets, potatoes, beans, corn, alfalfa, wheat and malt barley.
Minidoka Irrigation District
In the Minidoka district, 2 wooden scoop wheels, designed and installed in 1903, still lift water as much as 4 feet to flow into canals.
“We’re proud to continue operations that pay respect to our predecessors,” Dan says. “As far as I know, they’re the only ones of their kind still in use statewide. They’re amazing and move a lot of water with little energy.”
A 30-horsepower motor powers a wheel that moves 10 to 40 cubic feet per 2nd of water.
“The wood has been replaced, but the structure itself continues to play a crucial role in water delivery,” he says.
For more than a century, the district’s staff has been dedicated to ensuring agriculture is a sustainable enterprise for everyone— from the backyard gardener to largescale producers.
The district’s 26 full-time employees deliver water to 77,225 acres.
“It’s satisfying to meet with people, solve problems, and work through issues,” Dan says.
A&B Irrigation District
In the A&B office, photos taken 70 years ago show the district’s 1st ecstatic homesteaders.
On August 3, 1953, at the Rupert Square, veterans were given preference to draw farm units. 1 photo shows parents with their toddler, Jim Plocher, who became a ditch rider and welder for the district.
“We’ve had 3 generations of farmers and employees working together,” says Justin Temple, the district’s manager. He oversees 28 full-time employees who deliver water to 82,600 acres
The district is unusual, Justin says, because it is operated totally by pumping— from the Snake River in Unit A and from wells tapping the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer in Unit B.
To modernize the system, water is conveyed through pipelines in some places instead of canals. Several years ago in the off-season, a $12 million 100-cubic feet per second river pumping station was built with 19 miles of buried pipeline.
To maintain pipes, the district uses an innovative wraparound coupling with a patented hydraulic pressure-assisted gasket. Infrastructure has steadily been upgraded since the board appointed Justin’s grandfather, Virgil Temple, as the 1st manager in 1966.
“He was familiar with the area, having drilled some of the first wells on the project,” Justin says. When Virgil retired, the board appointed his son, Dan, as manager. At age 22, Dan began working for the district in canal maintenance and later was an electrical mechanical foreman.
“Dad shared all his knowledge with me,” says Dan, manager from 1997 to 2021. “In return, I passed that knowledge to Justin, which is invaluable in a pumping district.” Before becoming manager, Justin, 42, worked in canal maintenance and was a mechanical foreman.
“Having grown up here, I’ve known the farmers my entire life,” Justin says. “It’s great being able to help friends and neighbors.”