BOISE — Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Wednesday signed HB 1, the Treasure Valley water rights settlement bill, into law, and praised the collaborative process that brought all sides together on it.
The settlement agreement, brokered by House Speaker Scott Bedke and an array of others accounts for stored water in the Boise River system following releases for flood control, and, if the water is released, how those with water rights will have their rights maintained.
“This bill is proof again that Idaho excels at making these really hard decisions where diverse interests come together,” Little said. “This was not ordered by a judge, but negotiated and agreed to by all the principals in writing and approved by the Legislature. … We had a unanimous vote in both bodies on this — no court orders, no special sessions, just a lot of hard work by good folks, and in fact, a lot of seat time in the speaker’s office, if I recall correctly.”
Bedke said, “I’m very proud. This is such an Idaho thing, for Idahoans to get together and resolve such a contentious issue.”
It should be a model for addressing future resource challenges in Idaho, Bedke said.
“We still live in the arid West,” he said. “We still are residents of one of the fastest-growing states in the West, and we’re allocating scarce resources called water. That’s always going to be a challenge.”
Bedke said settling issues around water quantity will set the stage for the state to address its big water quality issues as well, along with habitat, flood control, and related issues, working from a foundation of science. “That’s what the future looks like,” he said.
One big water issue that’s not far off in the future is the prospect of possibly raising Anderson Ranch Dam east of Boise by 6 feet, to hold more water to serve the needs of the fast-growing Treasure Valley. Rep. Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, is co-sponsoring HJM 4 with Bedke, a memorial to Congress calling for approval of federal matching funds for the project, which could be available as soon as two years from now, Blanksma said. It would store an additional 29,000 acre-feet of water. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation began feasibility and environmental studies in 2018 and is expected to complete them by June of 2020. It would take congressional action to fund the project after that point.