State Politics

Will lawmakers come back to Boise this summer? Here's what Gov. Otter says

The trail to Mt. Heinen rises quickly above Arrowrock Reservoir.
The trail to Mt. Heinen rises quickly above Arrowrock Reservoir.

Gov. Butch Otter will not call legislators back to Boise this year to address a pending water rights dispute, his office said in a Thursday press release.

House Speaker Scott Bedke and others in recent weeks proposed calling a special session of the Legislature to help cement a settlement over water management in the reservoirs east of Boise — Arrowrock, Lucky Peak and Anderson Ranch. A group of lawmakers endorsed the idea earlier this month; Otter is the only one who can actually call such a session.

On Thursday, Otter and Bedke said an agreement among the parties in the case removes the urgent need to get legislators involved. Bedke said lawmakers would still take up related issues during the 2019 session, which starts in January.

Otter had not yet weighed in publicly on the matter.

“I have nothing but admiration for those folks who sat down together to figure out how to prepare for the future without putting such a critical issue in the hands of the courts,” he said in Thursday's news release. “While a special session of the Legislature would have been an extraordinary step, that prospect underlines the importance of the issue and the level of justified concern that was generated by the uncertainty that this agreement addresses.”

Water users who rely on the Boise River have been concerned about how flood-control efforts — releasing water downstream early in the year to avoid flooding along the river's heavily urban route — affect their water rights later on. State officials countered that those users only rarely haven't received the full amount of water due to them.

The Idaho Department of Water Resources, Suez, the Boise Project Board of Control and various local irrigation districts are all part of the agreement. The document addresses how to prioritize and appeal water rights across 167,000 acres in the Treasure Valley, affecting farms, parks and homes, Otter's office said.

Bedke was deeply involved in the settlement and Thursday's subsequent agreement.

“This enables us to address the concerns of everyone from municipal water users to irrigation districts in one of America’s fastest-growing areas without going to court,” Bedke said in the news release. “That speaks volumes about the level of collaboration we have developed in Idaho’s water community in recent years, as well as our commitment to being proactive in protecting Idaho water rights.”

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