BOISE – Republican Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho is stepping down from the U.S. Senate, but he will leave one last water bill waiting in the next Congress.
Hidden deep among a giant package of nearly 150 public lands bills that the Senate could consider as soon as January is a plan to spend $3 million to study the feasibility of new dam and reservoir projects on the Snake, Boise and Payette rivers in Idaho.
Craig’s proposal would allow the Bureau of Reclamation to study projects like rebuilding the Teton Dam, building a Twin Springs dam in the Middle Fork of the Boise watershed and adding new storage projects anywhere in the Snake Basin. The money would pay for any necessary environmental documentation, cost-benefit analyses and engineering work. If a project is found to be feasible, Reclamation or the project sponsors could then seek congressional authorization for project construction.
The proposal is part of a massive bill that includes Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo’s Owyhee Canyonlands bill and a Snake River Wild and Scenic Rivers bill for Wyoming.
It stalled in the final days of Congress this year, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in November that he could bring it back up in January with little chance for a filibuster. With the economy even worse than earlier, though, he may choose to put off the bill again.
But if Congress starts spending billions of dollars on infrastructure projects around the country, a water proposal from the West could be put on the fast track.
The Congressional Research Service, in its analysis of the lands bill, said these dam and water storage projects “do not appear to be broadly controversial.” But national environmental groups like Trout Unlimited and American Rivers are fiercely opposed to even considering rebuilding the Teton Dam, which failed in 1976 and killed 11 people.
Craig’s proposal was so secret that Idaho Department of Water Resources Director David Tuthill said he was unaware of the idea. But he had talked to the delegation about getting funding for water studies.
Meanwhile, the Idaho Legislature has approved $1.8 million to study projects on the Snake River, and Tuthill is talking about more than just rebuilding the Teton Dam and damming up the Middle Fork of the Boise. He is looking at alternatives that would dam smaller tributaries, and he’s also looking at projects that would allow the state to store more water underground in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer.
“The funding request is a bit broader than what we had discussed, but is certainly in keeping with the federal government doing its part to study the feasibility of storage projects in Idaho,” Tuthill said.