In a surprise veto Tuesday, Gov. Phil Batt erased protection for the Spokane-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.
Batt’s veto puts him at odds with both houses of the Idaho Legislature, which had unanimously endorsed the $58,000 appropriation to the Panhandle Health District. If not fixed next session, it could cost small water districts hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in additional water tests, legislators say.
The governor’s press secretary, Lindsay Nothern, said Batt considers the Spokane-Rathdrum Prairie program a duplication of other efforts. Critics say he is confused about what the program does.
Batt’s veto statement indicated he believed the money was for cleaning up the aquifer instead of running the highly successful protection program. He also suggested that the money for the program would still come from the Department of Environmental Quality now that he had vetoed a bill for special funding.
“We wrote letters to the DEQ and they never responded,” said Rep. Wayne Meyer, R-Rathdrum, who was instrumental in getting the $58,000 appropriation passed. “We’ve been that route and it’s not worked.
Among other things, the aquifer protection program saves hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said. The federal Environmental Protection Agency does not require small water systems to test their water extensively, because North Idaho has an active aquifer protection program.
“If we can’t keep the aquifer protection program going, a lot of these small water systems are going to have to do (more) testing, not only for coliform, but minerals and chemicals,” Meyer said.
The DEQ estimated that the 87 small water systems in North Idaho saved $695,000 in testing costs between 1993 and 1995 alone.
Instead of curbing North Idaho’s program, Meyer said he believes other areas of the state should consider aquifer protection.
“I personally don’t think some of these areas know how much they are costing small water users,” Meyer said.
David Reese, director of Panhandle Health District, says his operation will tap reserve funds to keep aquifer protection going this year. But that leaves the health district short of money for next year.
And it’s not the sort of program that can be abandoned, said Dick Martindale, who runs the aquifer protection program for the health district.
“It’s a prevention and education type program where you have to be in the field constantly,” Martindale said. “The state needs to contribute.”