BOISE – The Idaho Supreme Court has been asked to postpone arguments surrounding a lengthy water battle after parties on both sides of the case say they are close to a settlement.
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, the Idaho Department of Water Resources and the multiple water users involved in the lawsuit filed the motion to reschedule the oral arguments on Thursday. The court had been slated to listen to the arguments next week.
“The parties have reached a tentative global settlement agreement that does resolve all matters,” the motion reads. “However, the settlement agreement cannot be finalized before oral argument in this case, which is currently set for argument on June 20, 2018.”
Attorneys involved in the lawsuit also asked that arguments be reset sometime after July.
The state’s highest court has not yet responded to the motion as of Friday, according to the court clerk.
The case has become a high-profile issue for the state because the pending settlement may require Gov. Butch Otter to call a special session to tweak the law needed to finalize the agreement.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, who has helped lead the settlement talks, said on Friday he has not yet met with Otter to discuss the possibility of a special session. And while water users asked a legislative committee earlier this month to support legislation prompting the special session, Bedke declined on Friday to confirm or deny if a special session was still part of the negotiations.
“I’m actively seeking a solution,” Bedke told reporters.
Special sessions are rare in Idaho, with only 28 being held since the territory became a state in 1890.
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2013 regarding tensions in the Boise River system reservoirs – which spans from Boise to Parma – over flood control releases.
It comes down to how much water users are entitled to during snow-heavy years, when reservoirs tend to be full, and water must be released in early spring to maintain space for snow runoff and manage river flows. It’s a delicate balance to ensure enough water is sent downstream.
Settlement talks have been in the works since January over fears that the court’s ruling could upend decades of how the state allocates its water.
Water users and legislative leaders have said they have draft legislation that would change state law to say that any new attempts to store water cannot interfere with existing reservoir storage. This would be a key aspect of the settlement, but not all of it.
Otter has not weighed publicly if he is supportive of calling a special session.
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