On Thursday afternoon, the House Resources and Conservation Committee was filled with water users and representatives from the Idaho Department of Water Resources.
For the past several years, you wouldn’t have been able to find those stakeholders in the same place, at the same time, agreeing on hardly anything proposed by IDWR.
But that changed last year with a settlement on a long-running fight between Boise Basin water users and the state.
The fight involved flood releases from Idaho reservoirs during high water years, senior and junior water rights, and irrigation concerns. In short, if the Bureau of Reclamation releases water from Lucky Peak early in the season to avoid spring flooding in the Treasure Valley, should those releases count against water users’ rights — even if it’s too early for them to use that water for irrigation?
The fight resulted in litigation, as well as the threat of a special session during the summer of 2018. That was avoided with a settlement — moderated in part by House Speaker Scott Bedke, who started bringing together the different parties for lengthy meetings during the 2018 legislative session.
On Thursday, Bedke presented one piece that compromise in the form of House Bill 1 to the House Resources and Conservation Committee. The bill codifies how storage is filled after those flood releases from reservoirs.
“From my perspective, it’s a credit to the water users, both in the Treasure Valley and the state,” said IDWR director Gary Spackman. He also praised Bedke for bringing together the different parties, even when they were cantankerous. “He dedicated time to this he didn’t have to,” he said.
The water users agreed.
“It was a very divisive, very angry issue…. Three years ago, you would not have heard all that praise for the director, for the state, for the legislative leadership,” said Paul Arrington, executive director and general counsel for the Idaho Water Users Association. “There was a lot of frustration about this issue.”
Clinton Pline agreed.
“They were very dug in,” said Pline, president of Treasure Valley Water Users Association and a board member of the Nampa and Meridian Irrigation District. “We’ve come to a point where we’ve realized that everybody needs to give and take some, and this is where we are today.”
Does this mean Bedke needs to head to DC to solve the federal funding impasse over border security?
When asked, Bedke rolled his eyes.
“(Compromise) is something they know how to do,” he said. “They do it every day.”