BOISE — Idaho lawmakers from both sides of the aisle demanded the Idaho Department of Water Resources immediately cease counting flood control releases from Boise River reservoirs against stored water rights.
Treasure Valley irrigators have been fighting the state over the issue in two separate cases, and a bipartisan group of legislators who side with irrigators called on the IDWR to back off on the issue during a Nov. 5 press conference.
“Whatever the game being played here, it has to stop now,” said Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, who was flanked by nine other lawmakers from both chambers, irrigators and farmers at the Capitol.
“If the (IDWR) director won’t reverse course, we appeal to the governor to rein him in and rein him in now,” Burgoyne said.
Rep. Thomas Dayley, R-Boise, called the department’s decision to count flood control releases against stored water rights “an unjustified and unprovoked attempt by the state of Idaho to alter the system of Boise River water rights.”
“We’re asking the (IDWR) to stand down,” Dayley said. “Stop doing this.”
A special master of the Snake River Basin Adjudication court released a ruling Oct. 9 that sides with Treasure Valley irrigators who believe flood control releases should not count against their stored water rights.
Six days later, IDWR Director Gary Spackman issued an order in a separate, department-initiated contested case hearing that backs the department’s position on the issue.
Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell, said Spackman does not have the authority to reverse a court decision.
“Now the director, a bureaucrat, wants to overrule the courts of the state of Idaho because he thinks he has more authority to decide the law than the courts do, and he’s wrong,” Rice said. “If he disagrees with the court, he’s welcome to appeal the court decision (but) he’s not entitled to try to overrule the court himself.”
IDWR Deputy Director Mathew Weaver told the Capital Press that the department plans to allow both processes to play out and pointed out that both decisions can be appealed to district court.
The special court master’s ruling is a recommendation to the presiding SRBA court judge and can and probably will be challenged, Weaver said. It’s also a safe bet that Spackman’s decision will be appealed, he said.
“This is the very appropriate and very legal process in place to handle these matters,” Weaver said. “It’s premature now to abandon either one of these processes. It allows for complete participation by all the affected parties.”
Dayley said the IDWR’s position on the issue could result in irrigation water being turned off in June.
“It is not an understatement to declare that the future well-being of our valley and its people is in imminent danger of being forever altered,” he said.
Burgoyne said the IDWR’s position “is really irrational, (and) it flies in the in the face of all reason” and lawmakers would prefer the department drop its plans.
But, he added, “If this can’t be corrected in the normal process, within the executive branch, then the legislative branch is going to have to act.”