The Idaho House Environment, Energy & Technology Committee Feb. 4 voted to introduce legislation that would allow the state Department of Environmental Quality to create a voluntary water-quality trading program.

The proposal, subsequently drafted into House Bill 99, will be discussed in a future public hearing.

Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, years ago opposed the idea but now supports it. He’s one of the legislation’s sponsors.

“My expectation is that with the new (presidential) administration, there will be stricter water-quality standards coming back down again,” he told Capital Press. Greater emphasis on climate change, for example, likely would mean “more stringent water-quality standards, especially in Total Maximum Daily Load” of phosphorous.

“It’s just my expectation we probably will see stricter guidelines on all of that,” Vander Woude said. The legislation aims in part to help cities comply with federal guidelines most effectively.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, said it appears to give DEQ substantial rule-making authority. She asked if the Legislature would have much involvement.

“That will be an important conversation” in a full hearing, said Rep, Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, who chairs the committee.

Vander Woude said proposed rules would come back before the committee for review.

Idaho Water Users Association Executive Director and General Counsel Paul Arrington said in an interview there has been increased understanding that a water-quality trading program in the state “is something that can result in real improvements to water quality through collaboration with agricultural water users and local communities.”

Proponents “were able to explain water-quality trading is not just a shifting of burdens,” he said.

Water-quality trading establishes a tangible value as a means of exchange. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency supports it on a watershed scale. Idaho law does not prohibit it.

Arrington has said a voluntary state program could increase opportunities for projects like settlement ponds, designed in part to to reduce pollutant loads going into downstream treatment plants.

Recommended for you