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Craig: Water plan OK

Associated Press

LEWISTON — Idaho’s U.S. Sen. Larry Craig said he has not given a second thought to his support of the Snake River Basin Adjudication water rights agreement with the Nez Perce Tribe.

“I would have probably argued some points a little differently if I’d been at the table for the last five years, but I wasn’t at that table. I did what I was asked to do in the context of what I believe.”

The agreement, approved by Congress in 2004, gives the Nez Perce Tribe annual rights to 50,000 acre-feet of water in the Clearwater River and $80 million in cash and land in return for dropping claims to nearly all the water in the Snake River and its tributaries. The state and federal governments also pledged tens of millions of dollars for fish habitat and other environmental improvements.

Under the agreement, the state has agreed to set minimum stream flows in the many rivers and creeks in the Salmon and Clearwater basins. The minimum flow standards will not affect existing water rights and are subordinate to all current and future domestic, municipal, commercial and industrial uses.

The deal still must be approved by the Idaho Legislature. The House Resources and Conservation Committee will meet this week on the issue.

Proponents say it will settle a complicated dispute once and for all, giving farmers and others firm ground to plan their water needs and helping avoid a court battle.

But others, including the Idaho Farm Bureau, oppose the measure, claiming private land will be restricted so severely that some acreage will become useless.

Craig said there are many frustrated with the compromise, but the inescapable debate is happening in the right place.

“I don’t think I should be asking Congress to make decisions on Idaho water. Those decisions should be made in Boise with Idaho government and Idaho legislators, and that’s what’s being done.

“I’ve always been a firm believer in Western water law, which gives the state primacy in the negotiation of water rights.”

Craig said he is concerned about Idaho’s foreboding outlook of water going into what some say will be the sixth straight year of drought. He said President Bush’s budget cuts may adversely affect Idaho growers.

“At this moment, Idaho is the driest it’s ever been in recorded water history. I want to make sure there’s enough flexibility in this budget for drought-related assistance,” he said.

Craig spent the weekend in northern Idaho to attend several Lincoln Day celebrations in Grangeville, Moscow and Orofino. He will be in Emmett, Council and Nampa this week.

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