After a debate stretching for more than three hours – from 11 a.m. right on through the lunch hour and into the mid-afternoon – the Senate has just voted down HB 800, House Speaker Bruce Newcomb’s water recharge bill. The measure was strongly opposed by Idaho Power Corp., the big southern Idaho power company, which said it would take water the company otherwise could use for power generation without compensation, and use it to recharge the eastern Snake Plain aquifer. Backers of the bill said the recharge could be accomplished with excess water in this high-water year that should rightfully belong to the state, not to Idaho Power.
Senators endured hunger pangs, flaring tempers and strong feelings through the debate, which was intense. “In my opinion, those statements that it will raise electrical rates are not only false but misleading, and it is designed to scare you and scare your constituents,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. Cameron, the Senate finance chair, added, “If I have ever generated any political capital in this body through funding projects … I would lay all that on the desk” if it’d get the Senate to vote for the bill. He called the decision “one of the more significant votes that this body may take this decade.”
But Sen. David Langhorst, D-Boise, said, “It’s been rushed through, there’s been a lot of lobbying pressure and it really doesn’t feel very comfortable.” Opponents said the bill would just lead to litigation with Idaho Power, rather than to recharge of the aquifer. Gov. Dirk Kempthorne had been negotiating a recharge deal with the company before the bill was proposed that would’ve included paying for some water.
Sen. Mike Jorgenson, R-Hayden Lake, said, “It is abundantly clear it is drawing late in the session, tempers are short. … Vote no for the sake of the citizens of Idaho, because the costs for the litigation are far more than it might cost to pay for some small amount of water.”
Sen. Dick Compton, R-Coeur d’Alene, said for all the talk about lobbying pressure, “I’ll tell you where the greatest pressure came from – across the body, holding bills unless we vote. … I resent that. … This should go to the courts to be decided, not here.”