BOISE – Angry North Idaho county commissioners spoke out Wednesday against the proposed adjudication, or legal sorting-out, of all the water rights in North Idaho.
“I was a part of the process, but I guess I was ignorant, because I didn’t think things would change,” Bonner County Commissioner Joe Young told the state Senate Resources Committee. “The lines were changed, the scope of work was changed, and quite frankly, that pissed me off.”
Shoshone County Commissioner Jon Cantamessa told the panel, “Very few citizens in the north are informed, and most believe that they have been lied to.” He asked that the state “take a step back” on adjudicating water rights in North Idaho.
“We do have water, we don’t have money, we need information, and there’s no urgency in this process,” he said.
The committee was taking testimony on six bills proposed by state Sens. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, to scale back, cancel or slow down the basin-wide adjudication.
Keough said her constituents fear the adjudication process is designed to take away their right to draw water from their wells. Some fear the state plans to put meters on all private wells and tax the water. Though the state has never done that, one of the bills specifically forbids such meters.
Keough read a message from one constituent who wrote, “They will be facing a gun if they come to take our water rights.”
“The water wars seem to have spread to northern Idaho,” Keough said.
Bonner County Commissioner Lewis Rich told the Senate Resources Committee, “I would guess 95 percent of the people, or higher, don’t want an adjudication, primarily because they don’t trust anyone involved with it.”
Boundary County Commissioner Dan Dinning urged lawmakers to put the process on hold.
“We have issues there that I don’t believe were thought about when we began this adjudication,” he said. Among them: The Moyie River runs from his county into Canada and back. “We’re going to be dealing with a province, a Native American tribe and Canada.”
The committee will continue taking testimony on the bills Friday and possibly Monday.
Senate Resources Committee Chairman Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, said the state could have better handled the process leading up to the proposed adjudication.
“We should’ve started from the grass roots up with the local officials,” Schroeder said. “I think we learned something here today.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.