Idaho irrigators favor change in water rights law

January 2003
U.S. Water News Online

TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- The Idaho Water Users Association says virtually all of its member irrigation districts support overhauling state water laws that hamper the dairy industry.

The association is pushing a bill to change all that, after two previous efforts failed in the Idaho Legislature.

``But this year we have a much broader group working on it,'' Water Users Director Norm Semanko said. ``It's not unusual for a bill to go through two or three evolutions. It's a learning process.''

Semanko's group contends Twin Falls County environmentalists and dairy neighbors have relied on the phrase ``local public interest'' in water law to slow down the transfer of water rights for large dairies.

The phrase means that when the Idaho Department of Water Resources considers water right transfers, it must take in such concerns of local communities as dairy odor, traffic, noise and flies.

The Idaho Supreme Court in 1985 ruled the Water Resources director must consider local factors that could affect people who live near the water right applicant.

Agricultural groups, however, say the phrase was originally intended to ensure existing water rights are not harmed by a neighboring right transfer.

But attorney Rich Carlson, who has been involved with eight protests, said each case resulted in transfers which protect the community and water quality.

The Water Users Association is championing the measure. It has the blessing of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, the Idaho Cattle Association, Milk Producers of Idaho and the Idaho Dairymen's Association, Semanko said.

The Twin Falls Canal Co., a water user member and the largest irrigation company in the state, has not taken a stand on the legislature. Company manager Vince Alberdi said some of its own members are dairymen and others are not.

During the 2001 and 2002 legislative sessions, the Idaho Dairymen's Association supported legislation to change the law.

The measures did not get a hearing in Kimberly Sen. Laird Noh's Senate Resources and Environment Committee. The Republican lawmaker said he did not want a corporation to use the law to overwhelm a community, acquiring its water rights without local comment.


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