Irrigation districts

Joe Tackett, a ditch rider with the Nampa & Meridian Irrigation District, pulls trash off a weed rack in a district canal in the Boise area.

The needs of irrigation districts and canal companies are reflected in a package of bills proposed in the Idaho Legislature.

The bills address issues ranging from open-meeting notices and reporting requirements to rights-of-way and ensuring an adequate supply of water, said Paul Arrington, executive director and general counsel for the Boise-based Idaho Water Users Association.

Senate Bill 1083 clarifies that the protections and obligations of water-delivery rights-of-way extend to the operator of the right of way, in addition to the owner, the bill states.

For example, A&B Irrigation District in Rupert, Idaho, operates a system that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation owns. “Where the law says that the owner has the right to enter the property to clean and remove debris, this would make sure A&B as the operator would have the same access right,” Arrington said.

Law requires systems to be maintained, and “this would clarify that A&B has to keep canals in proper working order,” he said.

Senate Bill 1084 removes certain reporting requirements that have been in place since the 1890s. Historically, these reports have not been submitted to the Idaho Department of Water Resources, and are not necessary for regulation by the department, the bill’s purpose statement said. Reporting necessary for regulation of water rights would not be affected.

Arrington said SB 1084 deals mainly with canal companies, which are nonprofit corporations, whereas irrigation districts are quasi-governmental entities. Much of the information referred to in current law already is reported elsewhere, like when a canal company informs a county how well its system is operating and if it meets customers’ needs.

Irrigation districts would align with the state open-meeting law under Senate Bill 1085. The legislation also clarifies that access to irrigation districts’ records is governed by the Idaho irrigation district statute, which grants access only to water users and counties.

Under the Idaho open-meeting law, an emergency meeting can be held after 48 hours’ notice, whereas current irrigation-district code requires five days’ notice, Arrington said.

Several water interests in southwest Idaho reached a settlement over water refill rights in years when flood-control releases are made from behind dams in anticipation of reservoirs refilling with snowmelt.

The issue of shorter advance notices "came up in 2018 during negotiations for the settlement of the refill issue,” Arrington said. “If it had been in place, the water users could have held their meetings in a more timely fashion to address the settlement discussions.”

The right of operators to remove debris from water-delivery rights of way is the focus of Senate Bill 1086, which would clarify that this right extends to removing vegetation from canals.

“This is a big issue, particularly in urbanizing areas where our ability to remove vegetation from our rights of way is regularly called into question,” Arrington said.

Separately, the Idaho House of Representatives is considering House Joint Memorial 4, which supports a federal proposal to raise Anderson Ranch Dam on the South Fork Boise River to increase reservoir capacity.

field reporter, SW Idaho and SE Oregon

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