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Water shut off at historical park causes volunteers to try and save trees, gardens


SHELLEY — The vegetation at a historical park could all die due to the water being shut off, one nonprofit organization says. Now volunteers are bringing buckets of water to save trees, grass and vegetable gardens.

North Bingham County Park in Shelley is a recreational area and has an RV park on the north end. The south end includes NBC Historical Park, which has a schoolhouse, a barn, a rodeo arena and more.

Bingham County owns the entire park and has partnered with the Idaho Education Alliance for Solutions (IDEAS), a nonprofit that helps take care of the historical side of the park.

According to the nonprofit’s president, Bingham County has provided water to the historical side for over 20 years but one day, the south side of the park’s water just didn’t turn on.

Water turned off

“It started this spring that the commissioners and Parks and Rec told us that we weren’t going to have water, and we were like, ‘What?’ said Jacqi Sullivan, president of IDEAS.

The south side of the park has at least 10 acres of trees, vegetable gardens, herb and flower beds, and landscaping that a number of volunteers have built.

According to Sullivan, there’s been no water for the bathrooms or the water fountains on the south side since May.

Over the years, Sullivan said, the organization has brought yearly Idaho history tours to area students and hosted community nights, celebrations and other events.

“We started our tours, and the water was just turned off, so we called and said, ‘Wait, no! We have tours that we have — you can’t just turn it off.’ And they (the county) said, ‘Oh no, it’s actually illegal to water the south side,’” Sullivan said.

NBC Historical Park
Andrea Olson,
dead grass in park
The dry grass at NBC Historical Park. | Andrea Olson,

The bucket brigade

Sullivan said that for the last three weeks, they have organized a “bucket brigade” on Wednesday evenings. Members of the nonprofit and people in the community have come to help water part of the park with buckets to save the trees.

The city of Shelley has even brought its water truck to help make it easier for volunteers.

Sullivan said at least 25 volunteers in the community have shown up to help each week, from adults to little kids.

It’s apparent the park isn’t what it’s supposed to look like. A quick drive over to the park shows how dry the grass and the land are.

Water bucket
Courtesy Todd Sullivan
Kids helping
Courtesy Todd Sullivan
dead grass
Courtesy Jacqueline Wittwer

All about the water rights

The park’s north end still has water and looks lush and green.

Bingham County Parks and Recreation Director Scott Reese said Parks and Recreation helps maintain the north side of the park while IDEAS maintains the south side. There has been a good relationship for years between the two. However, the water had to be turned off due to legal reasons.

“We haven’t turned (the water) on this year (to the south side). We were advised by our civil (deputy prosecutor) that we couldn’t provide water to the south side of the park because we didn’t have water rights and we certainly didn’t want to jeopardize the county’s water rights. It’s just really unfortunate,” said Reese. “We are just trying to follow the law.”

John Dewey, civil deputy prosecutor in Bingham County who has been helping to resolve the issue, told it came to light when an organization last year was trying to lease a part of the park on the south end.

“There are no water rights that extend back to that south end of the park — not that the county owns. The county’s water rights extend only to the north end. I was able to verify that in working with specialists at Rocky Mountain Environmental Associates,” said Dewey. “The county is not wanting to violate Idaho law by diverting water where we shouldn’t be diverting it.”

green grass in park
North Bingham County Park in Shelley. | Andrea Olson,

What’s next

Dewey said he is helping the county to resolve the water rights issue. He is working with the city of Shelley to facilitate acquiring NBC Historical Park.

In a city council meeting Tuesday night, Shelley Mayor Stacy Pascoe and council members discussed acquiring NBC Historical Park.

“I think we need to move forward with acquiring that,” said Councilman Adam French in the meeting.

Dewey handed out an agreement to the council to acquire the park. The city is in the process of finalizing the agreement.

Pascoe told that a few years ago, the city bought a farm right next to the historical park.

“The city of Shelley bought that farm as an investment, and the reason why we did is because it’s got two water rights. It’s got a deep water well for drinking water, and then it’s got surface water rights so you can irrigate,” Pascoe said. “We’ve got enough water rights that we can transfer some to the park.”

He said the transfer would most likely happen after the city acquired the park.

“I have to say that I am really proud of our citizens in Shelley that they have been out there and they have been really putting their hands and heart into all this,” said Councilwoman Kim Westergard, in regards to the community helping water the park with buckets.

As for Sullivan, she said that IDEAS has bought temporary water rights from the Bingham Groundwater District to try and get the park watered and taken care of through the end of the summer.

She said it could take months to officially transfer over water rights.

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