Gov. Butch Otter’s proposal for $15 million in water projects next year, from $4 million to buy water rights from Simplot Corp. to guarantee water supply to Mountain Home Air Force Base, to millions for studies toward future dam projects including the Galloway and expansion of Arrowrock Reservoir and Island Park Reservoir, won unanimous support from the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning – not as an item for next year’s budget, but as a supplemental appropriation to happen right away.
“It was an effort to expedite the needs and the concerns around the state with regard to water,” said JFAC Co-Chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. “Because of the way our economy has been treated in the recovery, we have significant one-time money, we do not have very much ongoing money.” Gov. Butch Otter’s budget proposal called for a “surplus eliminator” to transfer tens of millions in one-time surplus funds at the end of the current year into rainy-day savings accounts; this move could reduce that, though it still could be considered in next year’s budget.
Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, co-chair of JFAC, told committee members, “I don’t think any of you were here when we pulled this money from long-range water management and took it to a short-range, desperate need. And I thought at that time that was not the way to run a government. And we did quite a few of those things. And now we’ll do what backfill that’s prudent.” She said, “I’m not on the water board, but I respect these people who are," and they identified the projects. "They’re the managers of the water.”
The appropriation bill, to transfer the $15 million from the general fund to Water Resources this year, still needs approval from both houses and the governor’s signature to become law, but appropriations seldom change after they clear the joint committee.