Drought drives interest in water seminar

Pioneer Irrigation District's Phyllis Canal flows by a sugar beet field near Nampa, Idaho, in September. The Idaho Water Users Association's 30th Annual Fall Water Law and Resource Issues Seminar Nov. 21-22 will include presentations on several state and federal water-related issues.

BOISE — Drought conditions during the 2013 growing season have spurred interest in the Idaho Water Users Association’s 30th Annual Fall Water Law and Resource Issues Seminar.

“Water issues are always of interest to folks in Idaho but when there are severe droughts like we had this year … it makes people focus on them even more,” said IWUA Executive Director said Norm Semanko.

This year’s seminar will take place Nov 21-22 in Boise and people began registering for it online “even before we sent the program to the printer,” Semanko said.

“The drought conditions this year have generated an unusually high interest in the issues that affect both the supply of water and the issues that can impact an organization’s ability to both secure and use water,” he said.

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.

The seminar always includes a wide range of state and federal issues important to IWUA members, said Brian Olmstead, general manager of Twin Falls Canal Co.

Olmstead said he usually attends the event as well as several members of his board and some of his staff.

“You always learn something at this meeting,” he said.

This year’s seminar will include a view from both sides of the border on the renegotiation of the Columbia River treaty between the United States and Canada. A Canadian official will provide Canada’s view regarding the future of the treaty and a Bonneville Power Administration official will provide this country’s take.

Olmstead is concerned the updated treaty could result in more flood control efforts in Idaho’s upper Snake River reservoir system, which supplies water to a large number of Idaho farmers.

“We don’t want more flood control responsibility in Idaho,” Olmstead said.

“We don’t want to make it any harder to fill the Snake River reservoirs. It’s hard enough already.”

California attorney Jennifer Spaletta, who represents several irrigation districts in other states that have had their water taken by the federal government, will provide an update on those cases.

“It’s a world we haven’t had to live in (here in Idaho) but that’s of real interest to our guys,” Semanko said.

The seminar will include a presentation by a Bureau of Reclamation official on how recent changes to the agency’s operating manual could impact water transfers and pricing.

“We’re trying to get a (beat) on exactly what those policy changes might mean for irrigators,” Semanko said.

Other topics include the ins and outs of irrigation district elections, best practices for water quality trading, a legal update on ditch rights, water rights and special use permits on federal lands, and a look at the latest Idaho Department of Water Resources rulings.

For more information about the seminar, contact the IWUA at (208) 344-6690 or visit the group’s website at www.iwua.org

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