Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Big Wood River not for sale

I read with a combination of outrage and amusement Fritz Haemmerle's suggestion that the city of Hailey fight the Rohe decision to allow upstream transfers of water in the valley. In my opinion, (recusing or not) Mr. Hammerle has a clear conflict of interest. He is the attorney for numerous water-rights holders who would make millions of dollars were these transfers allowed to take place.

He has opposed implementation of the Wood River Legacy Project (which these transfers would largely undo), and seems to view those with opposing viewpoints with disdain. The old saying is that "water runs uphill to money." That has historically been true, as resort areas and their agents buy or take the water they want from downstream users for trophy homes and golf courses. The examples exist throughout the West, and in our own backyard. Ask Jerome or Gooding.

The result is de-watered rivers, desiccated riparian areas, plunging groundwater levels for down-basin farming and ranching communities, and the enrichment of the already rich.

The waters of the state of Idaho belong to the people of the state. Up-basin transfers are not only an environmental disaster, but also directly violate the public trust principle that provides the working people of the state waters in which to fish and hunt.

The fact is not that the city of Hailey "may not be able to irrigate," the issue is whether there will be water made available for yet more golf courses and trophy homes that provide virtually no benefit to the people of the Wood River Valley and the working folks from the rest of the state. The fact is that the city of Hailey needs to live within a sustainable water budget, not continually seek new supplies.

Mr. Hammerle would better serve his constituents if he supported real watering restrictions, had a conversation with the folks at the cemetery who water every day, all day, recognize that the health of the Big Wood River—the whole river—is a primary driver of the local economy, and had a come-to-Jesus conversation with his canal clients and developers to let them know that, despite his best efforts, the Big Wood River is not for sale.

Rich McIntyre


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