BOISE — The first bill of the 2019 legislative session is one to resolve Treasure Valley water rights issues that led lawmakers to call for a special session last year.
House Bill 1 says the permits for new or proposed projects storing more than 1,000 acre-feet of water shall be subordinated to the capture and retention of water in existing on-stream storage reservoirs during and following flood control operations. It contains an “emergency clause,” meaning if it passes into law it will take effect immediately, rather than on July 1 which is more typical.
The bill is being sponsored by House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, who has long been involved in water issues and has been helping to mediate this water rights dispute in the Treasure Valley. The House Ways and Means Committee voted unanimously Tuesday morning to introduce it. The meeting on just the second day of the session was unusual for that committee, which consists of legislative leaders from both parties. The committee, which typically doesn’t meet for the first time until weeks into the session, has the power to introduce legislation quickly.
Bedke said he plans to send the bill to the House Resources and Conservation Committee.
Bedke said the bill is unchanged from a draft in June, when a legislative panel voted to ask then-Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter to call a special session. The parties involved reached an agreement a couple weeks later, part of which involved waiting until the 2019 session for this bill to be introduced. Bedke said it “brings closure to an issue that the stakeholders in the valley have quarreled about for literally years.”
At issue is the water in the Anderson Ranch, Arrowrock and Lucky Peak reservoirs, east of Boise, which hold Boise River water before it is sent downstream. The reservoirs are used for both irrigation and flood control, and when water is released in the spring to avoid flooding, it can count against the water rights of some senior users.
“It’s a really important issue in the valley,” Bedke said. “You live in the fastest-growing state in the union, and the Treasure Valley is the fastest-growing area in that state. The competition for finite resources continues.”