By Keith Esplin, Executive Director of the Potato Growers of Idaho
Giving the Idaho Power Company control of the state's much needed water is equivalent to flushing water down a toilet. At a time when the state has an opportunity to recharge the much-depleted Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer, Idaho Power is mounting an all-out effort to block such a plan - a move that is driven by selfishness and greed.
Idaho Power executives admit they are not opposed to recharge projects. They probably know that reservoirs and the aquifer only change the timing of water flow down the river. And we would hope that they already know that recharged water will eventually come back to the Snake River, and will be available for future power generation at facilities downstream.
So, is this really about water, or is it an issue of power, money and control? The answer is really quite simple. I believe the often-quoted phrase, "Show me the money," would be very appropriate in unveiling Idaho Power's underlying motive.
Any way you look at it, aquifer recharge is important to the future of Idaho and its economic development. It is especially important to Idaho agriculture. But, Idaho Power's greed is becoming a major obstacle for such projects.
It is our understanding that the state was working on a pilot project for aquifer recharge before H.B. 800 was introduced-an arrangement that would have paid Idaho Power $1.6 million for water the company does not even own.
Here again, we see why they would oppose H.B. 800 so vehemently. It all really comes down to money.
Fortunately, Attorney General Wasden's March 9, 2006, opinion further validates that Idaho Power does not own the high water flows that the company claims. Therefore, the state has the responsibility to see that water is being used to provide the maximum economic benefit for all Idahoans.
H.B. 800 simply gives back the state's right to divert excess water flowing out of Idaho into the underground aquifers, ultimately offsetting the effects of low-water years. Such a move would improve aquifer levels and help river and spring flows. This bill also sets a precedent for future aquifer recharge projects in the Treasure Valley and Mountain Home areas.
Contrary to what Idaho Power is telling the public, aquifer recharge does not take water away from anyone. It is excess water that would otherwise flow down the river and out of the state. Without a replenished aquifer, Idaho agriculture and the future development of the state are at risk.
Something Idaho Power is not so quick to point out is the simple fact that Idaho tax dollars have bought out 25,000 acres of water rights at Bell Rapids to increase stream flows. Idaho Power will also be the beneficiary of a government program to idle 100,000 acres of land in an effort to conserve water, resulting in increased river flows and more water for Idaho Power. While the state is footing part of the bill for these programs, Idaho Power is paying nothing. Idaho Power obviously does not think taxpayers are contributing enough, because they insist on being compensated for water they do not own.
We encourage all Idahoans to look at the facts. Idaho Power's misleading campaign is designed to gain support by employing fear - fear of unreliable power, fear of increasing rates, fear of less water in the Snake River for recreation, fear of importing power and new power plants, and fear of litigation. The vote on H.B. 800 needs to be based on the facts, not fear.