Letters from the West

Books by Jones and Hansen offer last-minute gifts for Idaho history, politics buffs

Two books, just hitting the stores this week, offer great last-minute gifts for political junkies.

Retiring Idaho Chief Justice Jim Jones has written the quintessential story of the Idaho water dispute that has shaped development, power production and water management over the past 40 years. The book, “A Little Dam Problem,” tells the story of the Swan Falls lawsuit between Idaho Power and the state of Idaho, and the legal cases that grew out of it.

The story is written by one of the masterminds of the agreement that holds Idaho together in the face of great change.

Those legal cases either have been settled or decided by the Idaho Supreme Court, where Jones has sat since his election in 2004. He was Idaho’s attorney general when Idaho Power won its case, saying the state had taken its water rights when it declared a minimum flow on the Snake River at Swan Falls at 5,000 cubic feet per second less than the water right it had since the dam was built.

Jones joined Idaho Gov. John Evans in negotiating a settlement with Idaho Power that recognized the limits of water development on the Snake, requiring the state to determine water users’ rights for the entire basin. That review, which was largely completed in 2014, and the court decisions that came out of it ensured that Idaho — not the water users, the Nez Perce or other Indian tribes — controlled its water.

No one played a greater role, as attorney general, water attorney and finally as Supreme Court justice, to ensure Idaho kept control of its destiny. Jones tells the story in a compelling narrative that students, attorneys and historians will enjoy. His blow-by-blow description highlights the personalities, heated rhetoric, chicanery and the public policy issues involved. It’s a great behind-the-scenes look at gut-level politics surrounding Idaho water, our lifeblood.

Former Republican Rep. Orval Hansen tells another key Idaho story in “Climb the Mountains.” As one of the sponsors of the legislation that created the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area, he tells how the area was preserved and how miners were stopped from destroying Castle Peak in the White Cloud Mountains. The 90-year-old Firth native, who now lives in Boise, played a critical but less-well-known role on the passage of the legislation that kept the Sawtooth and Stanley basins from being turned into subdivisions, airstrips and mining camps. Hansen joined Sen. Frank Church, Gov. Cecil Andrus, Sen. Len Jordan and Rep. Jim McClure to get the bill through in 1972.

Hansen also played a key role in early campaign finance reform and was a critical supporter of what was then known as the National Reactor Testing station in Eastern Idaho. Hansen convinced then-Atomic Energy Commission Chairwoman Dixie Lee Ray to change the name to the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, elevating the site to the level of Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, Argonne and Lawrence-Livermore. Today it is simply the Idaho National Laboratory.

Hansen’s defeat at the hands of ultraconservative George Hansen in the 1974 election foreshadowed the right turn the Republican Party was to make six years later.

A Little Dam Problem” is published by Idaho’s oldest publishing house, Caxton Press of Caldwell. Hansen self-published “Climb the Mountains.” Both were expected to be available today at Rediscovered Books in Downtown Boise.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

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