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Posts published in “Day: May 20, 2007”

Swan Falls, explosion 2

Swan Falls Dam

Swan Falls Dam/BLM

The last time Idaho Power Company butted heads with the state of Idaho over water rights at the Swan Falls Dam - this was in the first half of the 80s - the results rocked the state. Many of the results have worked out reasonably well; the Snake River Basin Adjudication, which was a direct result of that last conflict, probably will be a long-term benefit for southern Idaho.

The new lawsuit filed by Idaho Power Company, filed now as then in protection of 1905-dated water rights at the Swan Falls Dam on the Snake River roughly south of Boise, has a more dangerous edge. Back then, Idaho Power, in protection of its water rights (which it uses to generate cheap electric juice), did serve notice to thousands of southern Idaho water users that their water might be cut off. But at the same time, the utility was negotiating, trying to find a way to protect its rights while avoiding damaging and alienating its customer base. And, more or less, they and state and federal officials made it work. They guaranteed a minimum water flow for Idaho Power in return for state control and distribution of water flowing through the Snake above that minimum.

But water has been getting tighter in recent years, and now Idaho Power maintains there isn't any more beyond their guaranteed minimum and that, to meet its rights, many water users (mainly of ground water) will have to be shut off. In contrast to the 80s, the room or inclination to negotiate seems considerably less.

The room has to do with the physical realities of the situation, which could upend large parts of southern Idaho agriculture.

The inclination could come from somewhere else. Our suspicion for some years has been that once work on relicensing the three Hells Canyon dams to Idaho Power was complete, that corporate vultures would swiftly circle and dive-bomb at Idaho Power, which so far has been Idaho-based - but might not be for a lot longer. The new Swan Falls lawsuit feeds into that scenario.

Here's how, deep inside an Idaho Statesman analysis by Rocky Barker of the legal action: "Idaho Power provides irrigation customers lower, subsidized power rates to run their pumps. Putting those customers out of business would give Idaho Power more low-cost power to sell to customers who pay higher rates. Critics say this is Idaho Power's real intention and would make the company a more attractive buyout target."

A buyout was a lesser consideration a quarter-century ago. Today, it seems more a matter of time, and an Idaho Power based not in Boise but across the country might be a very different animal. Southern Idaho irrigators might be wise to give that careful consideration as they plot their next moves.

Potter: Odds out

Tom Potter

Tom Potter

Portland Mayor Tom Potter doubtless could have another term for the asking. His popularity is all any politician could hope for; he likely would not draw serious opposition in a run for a second term. Whether he wants to run is another matter.

After reading today's Oregonian update ("For Potter, success is doing by not doing") on the Potter mayoralty, we'd weight the odds against a run next year for a second term.

And we'd take him at his word if he suggests, as he likely would, that this month' defeat of the strong-mayor city charter change would have nothing to do with it. Some of the reasons are relatively concrete: He will be 68 next fall, would be 73 winding up another four-year term; he has a history of moving on from key jobs (like police chief) after relatively short stretches.

And such ambitions as he has expressed have largely been fulfilled. The Oregonian put the matter this way: "After 12 years under Vera Katz, a sharp-tongued whirlwind whose to-do list was taller than she was, Potter offered himself as a straight-talking stoic more interested in building relationships than esplanades." And he has been building relationships and opening the city government more than it was before - the things he talked about in his campaign. If he left after a term, he could say he'd done what he set out to do. Our guess now is that is what he will do.

NEXT So who would run? Council member Sam Adams is presumed in the race almost automatically if Potter isn't. But don't assume even a well-organized council member would have it in the bag; former Council member Jim Francesconi presumed so too, until Potter walloped him three years ago. More names are bound to surface, like the proposal a week ago by blogger Ted Piccolo of businessman Roy Jay.