Idaho's water is up for grabs
By BERT REDFERN
Bert Redfern, of Ketchum, is
the CAFO accountability chair for the Sawtooth Group of the Sierra Club.
The Idaho Water Users
Association and Farm Bureau are sponsoring House Bill 284, which is anti-public
interest legislation. This is dangerous legislation, but it is not the first
time special interest groups have attempted to prevent public participation from
Idaho’s water law. In previous years, these same groups have joined forces
with the Idaho Dairy Association in an effort to squelch the public from having
a voice in Idaho’s public water. The local public interest aspect Idaho’s
water law was created in the late 70s, when out of state interests were eyeing
our water. Without local public interest, there are no other measures in place
to protect our public water and our rights.
Imagine a power plant,
attempting to move into your neighborhood. Or an Industrial Confined Animal
Feeding Operation (CAFOs), or another industry with the potential to
significantly impact your water and quality of life. Many county zoning laws
fall short when requiring notification to potentially impacted neighbors. And
Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality is not the regulatory authority
for CAFOs, consequently their hands are tied when it comes to environmental
impacts from this industry. Suddenly, you discover you have no recourse at the
local level or what would seem to be the appropriate agency. This scenario has
happened in many a neighborhood throughout our great state. But the existing
clause in Idaho’s water law that allows public participation has, at times,
been the only mechanism available to neighborhoods to protect their water and
their quality of life from being impacted by industries. It is a viable
mechanism that must remain in tact.
Sponsors of House Bill 284
claim that in recent years water transactions have been delayed by protests
based on a broad range of social, economic and environmental issues having
nothing to do with the impact of the proposed change of the public’s water
resource. It is baffling why these sponsors would not be concerned with such
issues being raised. Potential environmental impacts must be considered in Idaho’s
water law. If the public’s water is impacted, it is no longer a viable
resource. And if the water is no longer viable, there are all kinds of social
and economic impacts that will follow.
House Bill 284 sponsors claim
applicants have experienced costly delays and have been required to hire experts
to respond to issues at an agency whose purpose has nothing to do with those
issues. The process of water rights transactions clearly places the burden of
proof that others will not be impacted on the applicant, but the protesting must
also incur similar costs, defending their position that impacts are imminent.
And House Bill 284 sponsors
believe removing the local public interest aspect from water law will
significantly reduce financial burdens on the Department of Water Resources.
However, IDWR is charged with managing and conserving Idaho’s water and our
quality of life. If the local public interest is removed from Idaho’s water
law, the state will not be able to fulfill its obligations to the citizens of
Idaho. The public must have a voice in protecting Idaho’s public waters. The
local public interest aspect of Idaho’s water is working as it was intended to
and tampering with it could prove disastrous.
Water is the lifeblood of
Idaho. It is a precious resource that should be conserved, used wisely and
protected for future generations. Don’t let special interest groups strip
public participation from Idaho’s water law. Tell your legislators not to
support this anti-public interest legislation. Call 332-1000 or 1/800-626-0471
today and tell your elected officials Idaho’s citizens deserve a voice in
protecting Idaho’s public waters.