Idahoans have been managing water resources for well over a century, since the territory was settled in the late 19th century. Water resources have been put to use turning hundreds of thousands of acres of desert into farmland and generating hydropower for the entire state. In 2015, Idahoans came to a historic agreement over water rights that balanced the claims of groundwater and surface water users with the aim of halting the depletion of the Eastern Snake Plain aquifer.
In this issue of Irrigation Leader, we speak with a variety of stakeholders and policymakers who address the Idaho Groundwater Settlement from a number of angles. In our cover story, Brian Olmstead, the general manager of the 118-year-old Twin Falls Canal Company, one of the largest canal companies in the United States, explains how the “fabulous” settlement is helping resolve disputes between surface water users like his company and groundwater users.
Idaho Governor Butch Otter provides us with some historical background on how midcentury agricultural development led, over the long term, to the depletion of the Eastern Snake Plain aquifer, and the actions he took when he saw a “water battle” coming in 2007. While it took nearly a decade to figure out the details, the process he set in motion with his 2007 summit led to the settlement Idahoans enjoy today.
United States Senator James Risch, who has also served as lieutenant governor and governor of Idaho, explains how Idaho’s experience demonstrates that “the best, most collaborative solutions come from those engaging with the land and the resources every day.” Drawing on his experience as a legislator and executive on the state and federal levels, Senator Risch argues for a more streamlined process for Bureau of Reclamation title transfers.
Finally, John Simpson, an attorney with experience in water management from both the engineering and legal angles, gives us an assessment of the groundwater settlement and its significance. Like many of the other individuals highlighted in this issue, he concludes that a proactive approach to water management is needed both in Idaho and across the United States.
Kris Polly is editor-in-chief of Irrigation Leader magazine and president of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at Kris.Polly@waterstrategies.com.