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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
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For the week of March 12 - 18, 2003


Idaho's water is up for grabs


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.

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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.