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North Idaho water adjudication bill passes

HB 545, the bill to adjudicate all the water rights in North Idaho, just passed the Senate on a 30-5 vote and headed for the governor’s desk. “There is nothing more sacred in the state of Idaho than water,” sponsor Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, told the Senate. “Water up north is just as sacred, just as precious and more beautiful than what we have down here – I’m sorry to say that, but it is true.”

Adjudication is a complicated and costly court process that sorts out who has rights to how much water. The state is just completing the largest adjudication in the nation, sorting out rights in the Snake River Basin in southern Idaho. With the North Idaho adjudication, which would include the Coeur d’Alene/Spokane river basin, the Palouse river basin, and the Kootenai/Clark Fork river basin, all the water rights in the state would have been adjudicated. The idea is to use the existing water court from the southern Idaho case and move right on to the North Idaho issues.

Sen. Dick Compton, R-Coeur d’Alene, said the state of Washington is laying claim against North Idaho’s water, and the adjudication will help Idaho defend its water. “Unless we have some pretty good legal basis to hang our hat on, they’re going to get their way,” he told the Senate.

But Sen. Skip Brandt, R-Kooskia, who unsuccessfully led opposition to a water rights agreement with the Nez Perce Tribe last year, said, “A state agency has employees that now need something to do, so we’re going to walk through a door again that we can’t back out of.” Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, agreed and voted against the bill.

Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, said legislation the House has been working on to nab water from Idaho Power Corp. to recharge the Snake plain aquifer will turn Idaho water rights law on its head, and make the adjudication useless, so he voted against the bill. “There’s a chance the whole adjudication process is going to get tossed out on the other side of the rotunda,” he said.

But the bill passed, and with funding already approved earlier in the morning by the joint budget committee, it’s now up to the governor.


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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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