Changing the water rules, maybe?

Norm Semanko
Norm Semanko

Toward the middle of today’s guest opinion in the Idaho Statesman by Norm Semanko, who leads the Idaho Water Users Association, was this bit of deliberate non-provocation:

Idaho’s Prior Appropriation Doctrine, embraced in its constitution and statutes, has worked well for Idaho for over 100 years. Augmented by additional water supplies including storage reservoirs, it has provided certainty and stability during times of shortage for farmers, cities and businesses alike.

The governor’s water summit was not a referendum on whether to change Idaho’s longstanding set of water laws. There will be no constitutional convention or other revamping of Idaho’s water laws.

The guest opinion was a statement of support for Governor Butch Otter’s recent water summit at Burley, which did not result in any immediate resolutions but did, as Semanko notes, have the virtue of bringing many of the players face to face. The fact that such a meeting might have real usefulness (and why followup meetings probably would be a good idea) is testament to Idaho’s gradually growing difficulties with effectively managing its water supply.

The summit wasn’t, as Semanko says, “a referendum on whether to change Idaho’s longstanding set of water laws.” But left unsaid was this question: Should that be considered? Should, for example, the prior appropriation doctrine (first in time, first in right) be tossed in favor of some other principle?

That would mean thinking outside of long-standing tradition. But some of the emerging water issues are non-traditional, too. Some large-scale careful consideration might be in order.

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