Letters From the West

Otter signs two water bills he promoted to study dams and take over permitting

USGS hydrologic technician Alvin Sablan collects phosphorus discharge measurements on the Boise River near Caldwell, Idaho.

USGS hydrologic technician Alvin Sablan collects phosphorus discharge measurements on the Boise River in 2013near Caldwell, Idaho that will be used for water quality permitting.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed two water bills Friday that were key parts of his legislative agenda this year.

The first l provides $15 million for dam construction studies and water supply improvement projects. The other includes funds and authorization for the state to take over water quality permitting over the next seven years.

“As I told legislators in my State of the State address, actively managing our precious water resources represents a critical investment in our capacity for responsible future growth,” Otter said in a press release. “The people of Idaho will be well-served by these actions to protect the resource upon which our livelihoods and way of life so directly depend.”

The $15 million will fund $1.5 million to complete a feasibility stidy on enlarging Arrowrock Reservoir on the Boise River with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation.

It also includes:

• $4 million to develop additional managed recharge capacity needed for the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer,
• $4 million to acquire senior priority Snake River water rights from the JR Simplot Co. to supply Mountain Home Air Force Base,
• $2.5 million to study enlargement of Island Park Reservoir in eastern Idaho,
• $2 million for further studies of the proposed Galloway Dam on the Weiser River,
• $500,000 to develop computer infrastructure need for the water supply bank
• $500,000 to conduct join water need studies in coordination with the northern Idaho communities.

The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry sponsored the second bill that begins moving permitting and enforcement of water quality rules under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System in Idaho from the EPA to Idaho’s Department of Environmental Quality. Idaho is one of only four states without primacy over its NPDES programs, along with Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New Mexico.

There are over 900 NPDES permits issued throughout Idaho, including about 135 for cities, 81 for industries, 94 for aquaculture, 590 for storm-water systems, and four for such operations as confined animal feeding operations and suction dredging. There is a long backlog of expired permits awaiting EPA action, forcing businesses and communities to operate with expired NPDES permits.

“No federal agency has a greater interest in ensuring that our water is clean and safe than do Idaho citizens,” Otter said. “I trust our own DEQ over the EPA, hands down.”

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted Friday to provide $300,000 per year and additional manpower for DEQ to do the work required in seeking primacy from the EPA.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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