By JOHN O'CONNELL
BOISE, Idaho -- A revision to the Idaho Comprehensive State Water Plan, setting water management goals for the state and strategies toward meeting them, has become law due to the Legislature's inaction on the issue.
The House Resources and Conservation Committee voted March 8 to send the bill onto the full House, recommending its approval. In Idaho, however, water plan revisions become law if the Legislature takes no action within 60 days of the session's start, a deadline that expired on the same day as the committee vote.
Idaho Water Resource Board Chairman Roger Chase said the bill will likely continue through both the House and Senate anyway.
"It was really important to the board to have legislative support on this," Chase said.
The plan was implemented in 1976 and last revised in 1996. The revision, drafted by Idaho Department of Water Resources staff with feedback from 37 public meetings, has been in the works since 2007. Seven other hearings were hosted last summer after the plan was released as a draft.
Prior to the committee vote, Chase allayed several committee members' concerns. He assured them private water rights will remain protected by new language in the document. Chase argued a controversial policy recognizing the importance of wetlands is proactive and should protect the state from the federal government imposing its will.
Some members worried language suggesting planning for climate variability could be construed as a position on global warming. Chase said the document promotes adding storage and taking other actions to cope with increasingly early snowmelt, but doesn't speculate about the cause.
Other concerns dealt with the broadness of a policy supporting aquifer recharge efforts, wording about minimum stream flow for salmon recovery and ensuring private efforts to aid in salmon recovery remain voluntary.
Chase vowed the state will involve the Legislature much earlier in the next water plan revision. He also promised the board will review lawmakers' concerns and may undergo another process to make revisions next year, if need be. A few days prior to the vote, the committee drafted amendments to the plan, but ultimately chose not to vote on them.
"I think when we sit down and talk about it, we'll find most of those (concerns) are covered in the plan," Chase said. "It is really a good plan. I believe we've had as broad a base of support as we've ever had for a water plan."
Helen Harrington, IDWR manager of water planning, said one significant concept added since the last plan update is comprehensive aquifer management planning, which entails developing aquifer management plans and milestones to meet for selected basins. Harrington said the new plan also includes much more context to explain the reasons behind policies and continues to support the state's sovereignty in managing its water resources.
"The state water plan is a policy document that clearly describes the state's position on water resources of the state and informs the federal government, other states and the public how the state looks at its water resources and would manage and develop them," Harrington said.