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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
News >  Pacific NW

Credentials threaten water right

Associated Press

MOSCOW, Idaho – The order granting the single largest water right in Latah and Whitman counties could be invalidated because of a local geologist’s lack of state credentials.

Phil Nisbet, who volunteered as a consultant for Naylor Farms, was warned earlier this month that he’s not licensed to provide services in Idaho by the Board of Registration for Professional Geologists.

Nisbet, who operates a mining company, testified several times about a geological formation on the Naylor property five miles north of Moscow that creates a water source separate from the region’s aquifers.

But he was warned by the Board of Registration for Professional Geologists that he cannot provide services in Idaho.

“Shy of a subpoena, I’m not supposed to testify at public hearings or offer my opinion. I’ve been in this business for 25 years. My credentials are pretty bloody cut and dried,” Nisbet said. “They didn’t like the data, so they’re shooting the messenger.”

State Senate Resources and Environment Committee Chairman Gary Schroeder said water rights complicate the issue.

“When a water right is considered, I think reputable scientific data from reputable sources should be considered,” the Moscow Republican said. “If the information considered is not reputable, however, it forever taints the process. (Nisbet) was told to cease and desist; whether that invalidates his testimony, I don’t know.”

Schroeder forwarded the issue to the state attorney general’s office on Thursday for review.

In a December order, water-rights administrator Glenn Saxton concluded Naylor Farms’ pumping of 2.4 billion gallons of water annually for irrigating crops wouldn’t hurt area aquifers because the water comes from another source.

But Latah County commissioners have disputed Saxton’s ruling, arguing that one of the area’s main water sources, the Grand Ronde aquifer, has been dropping up to 2 feet per year, while another source, the Wanapum aquifer, also may be dropping faster than it is being refilled.

In its petition asking Saxton to reconsider his ruling, Latah County alleges Naylor Farms’ water right “will conflict with the local public interest.”

The cities of Moscow and Pullman also filed petitions. They want the state to clarify provisions under which Naylor Farms agreed to stop pumping ground water if levels in nearby wells begin to drop.

Saxton will conduct the review. If he reaffirms his order, Latah County and the two cities could appeal again to Karl Dreher, the water department’s director.

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