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Monday, March 25, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Bedke: No special session, parties now agree in water fight

Water flows downstream on the Boise River at Lucky Peak in Boise on Dec. 29. (Chris Bronson / Idaho Press-Tribune)
Water flows downstream on the Boise River at Lucky Peak in Boise on Dec. 29. (Chris Bronson / Idaho Press-Tribune)
By Betsy Z. Russell Idaho Press-Tribune

Idaho won’t need to call a special session of its state Legislature over Treasure Valley water rights this summer after all.

“The parties have agreed to a timetable that does not require a special session, and so they are to be commended for their patience,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, who has been mediating the dispute between Treasure Valley water users and state and federal agencies. He praised Idaho Water Resources Director Gary Spackman, who Bedke said “has done a really good job in being flexible as to timetables and offering things that work not only for the state, but also for the water users.”

The parties still are looking for a proposed change in state law with regard to water rights priority when new water-storage facilities are constructed, but decided that issue can wait until lawmakers convene for their regular session in January.

Bedke said the settlement agreement now includes two paths, depending on whether the legislation passes or not. “If that passes, then the water right will reflect that,” he said. “And if it doesn’t pass, then it will not. But more importantly, the water users do not have to give up any of their appeals rights in the courts.”

All parties had been scheduled to meet at the Idaho Supreme Court Wednesday for arguments in a series of appeals and cross-appeals in the dispute, but all jointly agreed to vacate that hearing with the settlement in the works.

“We’ve reached an agreement with the state of Idaho and the Department of Water Resources that provides both parties with important things that they were looking for, and important protection for their water rights,” said Al Barker, attorney for the Boise Project Board of Control, which handles irrigation water for a wide array of users in the valley. “I know that the Boise Project and its irrigation districts appreciate the efforts of the director and the attorney general in helping to get this resolved, as well as the speaker.”

The settlement agreement puts in motion a number of steps, including consideration of legislation by lawmakers in January and the need to seek decrees of water storage rights from the state water court.

Barker said it will protect those who hold rights to the water that’s stored in three reservoirs east of Boise, which flows down the Boise River and into diversions for everything from farm crops, parks and golf courses to streamflows for fish, wildlife and recreation. “It also recognizes the continuation of flood control operations, which provide a significant benefit to the people who live up and down the Boise River,” he said.

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, said, “I didn’t think we’d ever get this deal put together. It’s a good thing. … It should work out fine.”

Bedke said, “They’ve been going back and forth for years now. … This recognizes that there’s going to be growth here in the Treasure Valley, it recognizes that that growth is going to require water.”

“I think it’s a good day for the water interests in the Treasure Valley,” Bedke said.

Only the governor can call the Legislature back to Boise for a special session; lawmakers adjourned their 2018 regular session on March 28. Two weeks ago, a joint legislative panel unanimously voted to request Gov. Butch Otter to issue the call.

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