State of Idaho’s Actions Threaten Water Rights and Irrigation Water Supplies

By Roger Batt, Executive Director – Treasure Valley Water Users Association

Arrowrock, Anderson Ranch and Lucky Peak reservoirs hold a total capacity of 986,000 acre-feet of water for irrigation, recreation and other uses. This year over 1.8 million acre-feet of water was released for flood control from these reservoirs in a well-calculated manner to protect our residents and prevent catastrophic flooding of the Boise Valley. Historically, seven out of every 10 years are years where flood control is needed.

For over 60 years, the Boise River reservoirs have been operated for flood control and water storage under a congressionally-approved plan that was developed in cooperation by the federal government, the State of Idaho and Treasure Valley water users. During flood season open space is maintained in the reservoirs for flood control to capture high runoff and control reservoir releases and river flows through the Treasure Valley. As the risk of flooding subsides, the reservoirs are filled to provide water for irrigation, recreation and other uses.

It is important to note that water released for flood control is water that we are not able to store for future use. This is water that is sent down to the ocean never to be seen again. So why should you care? The reason: The State of Idaho has developed a theory that water released for flood control should count against you as water that you are using. That’s right….this water that cannot be stored for future use is now supposed to count against your storage water rights – the amount of irrigation water you would normally receive during the hot summer months to make it through the irrigation year. The argument is not about whether water should be released for flood control, it is about how those releases are now being accounted for due to the State’s theory and legal position that is currently challenging our irrigator’s storage water rights in the Idaho Supreme Court.
Numerous area residents in the Treasure Valley have been asking, “Why is the state challenging the validity of our long-standing water rights? How can water released for flood control purposes (something necessary to protect our community) be counted against us as water that is being used?”

During the time of year when flood control releases have been made there hasn’t been a high demand for irrigation water for crops, golf courses, gardens or yards. Some of the pictures attached with this article show fields and canals under snow and ice when flood control releases began in mid-February of this year. Yet during that same time, under the State’s theory and legal challenges, those flood control releases would be counted against us as water that is being used.

2017 weather conditions and the State’s position created the “perfect storm” for this water rights grab. Under the State’s theory, the irrigation water that has been historically available for irrigation purposes would now be fully exhausted due to flood control releases. Having little-to-no storage water to use would have obvious devastating consequences for the Treasure Valley and the State. In a year like this one, under the State’s theory our storage water allotments would have been exhausted by the time natural flows in the river were depleted in July. The only thing that saved us from having those rights exhausted this year is the fact that this issue is in court. And as we wait for a hearing date to be set our Valley’s irrigators remain nervous about what the future holds.

The fact that the State of Idaho simply disregards the reservoir operating plan developed over 60-years ago is very troubling. No water user who agreed to this plan would have done so knowing that flood control releases would be counted against their water rights. In fact the reservoir operating plan clearly states that our irrigators’ storage rights would not be infringed upon. Our irrigators have done their part by being good stewards in agreeing to protect the Valley and its residents from catastrophic flooding by releasing water for flood control. Why has the state of Idaho backed out on their responsibility of this agreed upon plan by forcing our irrigators to litigate this issue and defend what is rightfully theirs in a court of law?

Here’s how you can help: Please contact your Legislators about this issue as any decision from the Idaho Supreme Court will likely end up with one of our entities pursuing Legislation. Please help educate those you know about the seriousness of this issue as it impacts both urban and rural water users – those who receive irrigation water from irrigation delivery entities for lawns, gardens, parks, soccer and football fields, golf courses, pastures and to irrigate crops.

For more information about this issue please visit the Treasure Valley Water Users Association’s website at www.treasurevalleywaterusers.com or our Face Book Page at https://www.facebook.com/IdahoWeedAwareness.