Bureau of Reclamation leader to speak on agency's policies, goals
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Important federal water issues that could significantly impact irrigated agriculture in the West will be among the topics discussed here Jan. 24-26 during the Idaho Water Users Association's 75th annual convention.
The IWUA includes about 300 irrigation districts and canal companies, agri-businesses, hydropower and aquaculture interests, and people and firms around the state that manage water supplies for more than 2 million acres of irrigated farmland in Idaho.
One of the highlights of this year's convention will be a review of Bureau of Reclamation policies and goals by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Interior John Tubbs.
The bureau provides 1 in 5 Western farmers with irrigation water for 10 million acres of farmland that produces an estimated 60 percent of the country's vegetables and 25 percent of its nuts and fruits.
IWUA Executive Director Norm Semanko said this year's convention will be heavy on bureau issues, and Tubbs will cover a wide range of water and environmental issues that could affect agriculture.
He said Idaho water users will be particularly interested in a draft proposal to change a bureau manual that covers important issues like the interpretation of the agency's laws and the setting of fees.
The proposal could result in water deliveries to any parcel of less than 10 acres being considered an industrial or municipal delivery. That could affect pricing for water delivery to entire irrigation districts, Semanko said.
Because of the large amount of interest in this proposal to change the bureau's manual, the agency has promised to revise its draft in January and take further comments until March 31, Semanko said.
"It would have some significant effects," he said. "There could be a fundamental shift in the way water delivery is done. We're hoping to have some light shined on that issue during our convention."
Tubbs will also address the possibility of increasing small-head hydropower and adding capacity to existing dams.
Lynn Tominaga, executive director of the Idaho Irrigation Pumpers Association, said having Tubbs at the meeting is significant because Department of Interior assistant secretaries "are the ones that really set the policy for what happens within all the different regions. It is important that Idaho water leaders meet with these guys."
Bureau of Reclamation officials will also discuss a project they are working on with irrigation districts in the Pacific Northwest to protect canals from existing and future encroachment.
Besides the bureau issues, Semanko said, the convention will cover the usual plate of water issues, including Clean Water Act jurisdiction and Environmental Protection Agency issues.
IWUA members will be updated on a new federal rule that could require people to obtain an EPA discharge permit to use aquatic herbicides. Unless Congress overturns the requirement, it is due to go into effect Jan. 12 and could have a significant impact on many water users, Semanko said.
More information about the Idaho Water Users Association convention can be found at www.iwua.org or 208-344-6690.