Every state senator or representative from North Idaho’s districts 2 through 5 is backing a move to use negotiation, rather than litigation, as the state and the Coeur d’Alene Tribe look to settle federal reserved water rights in the Coeur d’Alene-Spokane River Basin Adjudication. The 12 lawmakers all signed a letter to Gov. Butch Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden backing the move; today, the House Ways & Means Committee approved legislation to pass a concurrent resolution urging the state to take that route.
“It’s essentially a formal request to just move into negotiations, without having to have a long discussion in the courtroom about whether we’re going to have negotiations,” said Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene. “It’s us trying to do everything possible to avoid litigation.” Malek, an attorney, said negotiation is “a lot less costly than litigation, and more inclusive.”
Helo Hancock, legislative liaison for the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, said, “Other states that have chosen the path of litigation with tribes, there’s 50-year cases. It’s very expensive. We’ve been in discussions with the Attorney General. … There’s been a willingness to sit down at the table.”
The question of the tribe’s federal reserved water rights claims is a major factor in the adjudication of all the water rights in the North Idaho basin, which is now under way; Idaho also is concerned about downstream claims from the state of Washington. “All parties want to protect Idaho’s interests,” Malek said. The Ways & Means Committee voted to send the resolution directly to the full House’s 2nd reading calendar for a vote.