Boise– Governor Butch Otter and House Speaker Scott Bedke announced an agreement today between water users and water managers on prioritizing water rights from Boise River reservoirs, eliminating the need for a special session of the Idaho Legislature to address the issue.
If the Governor had called a special session, legislators were prepared to propose amending Idaho water law to prioritize existing water-rights allocations following any flood-control operations if area growth and development prompts any sizeable increase in water storage capacity along the Boise River system. Water users were concerned about the right to refill the reservoir space opened up by flood-control releases in order to ensure their water-rights allocations could be met. They wanted assurances that allocating water to fill new storage capacity within the system was not prioritized over filling established reservoirs.
The agreement reached Wednesday involves the Idaho Department of Water Resources, municipal water system operator Suez, the Boise Project Board of Control and the irrigation districts it serves in southwestern Idaho. It includes specifics about the processes for prioritizing and appealing water-right allocations to thousands of landowners – from farms and parks to residential lots – over 167,000 acres in the Treasure Valley.
Idaho House Speaker Scott Bedke said the 2019 session of the Legislature would seek to codify the agreement’s provisions.
“This enables us to address the concerns of everyone from municipal water users to irrigation districts in one of America’s fastest-growing areas without going to court,” Bedke said. “That speaks volumes about the level of collaboration we have developed in Idaho’s water community in recent years, as well as our commitment to being proactive in protecting Idaho water rights.”
Governor Otter cited the importance of clarifying how Idaho’s most precious natural resource will be allocated and delivered as demands for water increase along with the area’s dynamic growth.
“I have nothing but admiration for those folks who sat down together to figure out how to prepare for the future without putting such a critical issue in the hands of the courts,” he said. “While a special session of the Legislature would have been an extraordinary step, that prospect underlines the importance of the issue and the level of justified concern that was generated by the uncertainty that this agreement addresses.”
Concerns arose over water allocations amid discussions of increasing water storage capacity in the three-dam Boise River system. In many years, stored water is released from the reservoirs to minimize flood risks. Spring runoff largely restores water levels in Anderson Ranch, Arrowrock, and Lucky Peak reservoirs after those releases, usually satisfying allocations to water-right holders. However, rapid population growth in the Boise Valley has raised questions about the impact of significant storage capacity being added to the system.
“This agreement will put to rest an issue that has kept us apart for many years,” said Richard Durrant, chairman of the Boise Project Board of Control, praising the efforts of Idaho Department of Water Resources Director Gary Spackman and the Idaho Attorney General’s Office in bringing the parties together. “Reaching this agreement now allows the State and water users to focus on further developing the reservoir system to provide additional flood control and water for future uses.”