A few quick thoughts on the Thursday announcement of an agreement between Idaho Power Company and various others, including the state of Idaho, about water rights linked to the Swan Falls Dam on the Snake River.
Swan Falls has a big place in Idaho water law, most critically because of the state Supreme Court decision from 1982 which said that Idaho Power had the rights to more water upstream of the dam (which is more or less south of Kuna) than almost anyone had previously suspected. That decision unleashed a couple of years of political and economic chaos until state and Idaho Power officials reached the agreement they more or less had to, which still gave Idaho Power the water it needed but didn't suck dry the desert land east of Boise, where many thousands of water users were on the verge of losing their water. The deal also launched the Snake River Basin Adjudication.
The deal was the one that had to be struck because if Idaho Power actually grabbed all the water which it might have been able to, a massive part of its rate base - the irrigation-based farm structure, some key industries and more - might have collapsed. The decision was the one that had to be reached. Over the years, though, Idaho Power inevitably took renewed looks at the agreement, and a couple of years ago challenged (in SRBA Court) some of its key terms.
The new agreement essentially puts that challenge to rest. (Okay: That's oversimplified, since it does have some substantive effects, but in the case of the larger issues it's nonetheless mostly true.)
The deal has been described as a major turning point. It is important, certainly, but mainly by way of averting a twist in Idaho history: A serious upending the 1984 Swan Falls agreement could have had massive unforeseen effects. It would have thrown a major curve into Idaho history. As matters stand, this is a deal that allows the big picture of Idaho development and history . . . more or less to proceed.