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Water bills clear the House

It took two long hours of hard debate, but the House just passed three major water bills – including the funding bill that addresses a southern Idaho water crisis and also funds a series of North Idaho water projects.

Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, said funding the North Idaho projects will help avoid a crisis in North Idaho’s future like that now facing the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer. “If we are not able to fund these projects right now, we will have a bigger water problem than we have right now,” he said. The North Idaho projects include studying the Rathdrum Prairie aquifer, monitoring the use and re-use of water in the region, and more.

Several representatives said the water issue is a statewide one, and a statewide approach is appropriate. “We’re all in this together,” said Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.

The bills, in the end, passed easily, and now head to the Senate. HB 373a, allowing the purchase of water rights at Bell Rapids and setting up bonding authority and a revolving loan fund at the Idaho Department of Water Resources, passed 65-4. HB 374a, expanding the role of water districts in dealing with the issue, passed 64-6. HB 392, the funding bill, passed 63-7. All of North Idaho’s representatives voted in favor of the bills, except for Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, who voted against the first and third, and Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, who voted against the second.

A fourth bill that completes the package is being reworked and a new version is scheduled to be introduced tomorrow morning in the House Ways and Means Committee. That’s the measure that makes water district membership mandatory.

Backers of the bills in the House today said Idaho is facing a drought of biblical proportions, even though it’s been raining out today. Said Bedke, “Remember that God will help those who help themselves.”

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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