Guest Opinions

Idaho wants to count flood-control releases against Treasure Valley water rights

Roger Batt
Roger Batt

Arrowrock, Anderson Ranch and Lucky Peak reservoirs hold a total capacity of 983,000 acre-feet of water for irrigation, recreation and other uses. As of today, over 950,000 acre-feet of water has been 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 by the federal government, the state of Idaho and Treasure Valley water users. During flood season (right now), 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.

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 challenging our irrigators’ storage water rights. Numerous water users 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) count 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. Fields and canals were still under snow and ice when flood-control releases began in mid-February. Yet during this 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.

This year’s weather conditions and the state’s position are creating the “perfect storm.” Under the state’s theory, irrigation water that has been historically available for irrigation purposes would now be 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 be exhausted by the time natural flows in the river were depleted in June or July.

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.

Roger Batt is the executive director of Treasure Valley Water Users Association.