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New water group comes out swinging over flood control releases

Treasure Valley water users will conduct a full-court press in their fight against the state's decision to count flood control releases in the Boise River system against reservoir storage rights.
Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Published on August 27, 2015 12:09PM

BOISE — The newly formed Treasure Valley Water Users Association has authorized its executive director to conduct a full-court press against a state plan to count flood control releases against reservoir storage rights.

The TVWUA board of directors unanimously voted to have its executive director, Roger Batt, go full bore on the issue, which irrigation entities in the valley say could have dire consequences for farmers and other water users.

“‘Go full throttle on this’ is what they said,” Batt said.

In a news release, Batt called the Idaho Department of Water Resources plan “an unprecedented attack on individual and business water rights in the Treasure Valley” and said it “poses a perilous threat to our way of life.”

Water is released from the Boise River system’s three reservoirs in February and March for flood control purposes.

Treasure Valley water users have a 62-year-old agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that ensures those releases aren’t counted against the storage rights of individual water right holders.

But the IDWR plans to start counting flood control releases against storage rights and the Idaho attorney general’s office backs the legality of that plan.

IDWR officials say that would bring the Boise system into compliance with state water accounting law.

Not doing this, they say, could result in the state surrendering legal control over the water to the federal government.

But Treasure Valley irrigators say the plan is contrary to established state water law and could result in irrigation canals and ditches running dry in mid-summer.

If the state’s plan goes forward, “We could be out of water at the end of July. We wouldn’t have any kind of crops,” Kenny Cole of Boise-Kuna Irrigation District told fellow TVWUA board members recently. “The economics of this valley would be crashed.”

An IDWR contested case on the issue begins today and will last through Sept. 10. The case was initiated by the department, and IDWR Director Gary Spackman will be the hearing officer.

Treasure Valley water users challenged Spackman’s position as hearing officer, calling it an obvious conflict of interest, but Spackman dismissed the challenge, Batt said.

Spackman’s position as hearing officer in effect makes him both judge and jury, Batt said.

“It is bureaucratic arrogance run wild,” he said. “At least have a third-party, non-biased entity be the hearing officer in the case.”

IDWR officials didn’t return phone calls seeking comment for this story.

Both sides are also awaiting the outcome of dueling motions for summary judgment in a related case before a Snake River Basin Adjudication court.

That case is before a “special master” who will decide whether it moves forward to a judge. A ruling is expected within 30 to 40 days.

In the TVWUA news release, Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, the Idaho House majority caucus chairman, said shutting off irrigation water early “would result in a significant economic loss to our agricultural operations and our economy due to a lack of sufficient water to irrigate farmland.”


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