Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Statesman has a story about a water law ruling by the Idaho Supreme Court. The issue has been percolating for a while, and finally came to a conclusion. Two fish farms have been accusing ground water pumpers, i.e., farmers, of over pumping and taking more water from the aquifer than they're entitled to, diminishing the fish farmers' flow of water below what they're allowed. A while back a curtailment order was issued, which threatened to prevent farmers from pumping water for their crops. They faced loss of an entire season's crop. That was avoided, but the issue remained.

So the fish farmers win, and the ground water pumpers will have to limit the amount of water they pump out of the ground.  Perhaps now this water fight might catch the attention of the legislature.

First, as an aside, this issue kind of embodies classic Republican thinking. Idaho's water rule is, first in time = first in right. In other words, I got mine, you can piss off.  (In fairness, Idaho is not alone with this rule.)  Even though 150 farmers growing crops might produce more for the overall economy than two fish farms (maybe, I dunno), the fish farms have the older claim. This priority is in Idaho's constitution, Article XV, Section 5priority in time shall give superiority of right to the use of such water."  So, we're probably stuck with it.  But, the constitution allows for reasonable regulation.

So, I say, tax the extraction.  Give water users some incentive to conserve, and raise some revenue.  I'd even support some offsetting tax break so that suddenly water users (including homes) aren't paying a bunch more in taxes.  But, the tax would be an incentive to conserve.

I'd also like to see the legislature require municipalities to have a water conservation plan in effect, maybe just requiring homeowners and businesses to water only every other day, or perhaps a system of warnings leading to penalties for homeowners and businesses that over water and allow water to run off the sidewalks and into the storm drain.

I admit that I don't know much about the specifics, but I'd just like to see our legislature start to work on the issue.  Maybe now that the politically powerful farmers are getting hurt, they will.


fortboise said...

Not sure how this is "Republican," really. The idea of staking claims is as old as the hills (since the last invasion, anyway). The idea of taxing the extraction is to squeeze out less economically beneficial uses? Sounds kind of nasty.

If you live out in the country, have a nice well, somebody moves in, drills a deeper well and sucks yours dry, all you care about is whether they're making more money than you are?

No, that doesn't sound like the way I'd want it to be.

alan said...

Wait. What? The concept of "I've got mine, you can suffer" is a Republican concept. Not necessarily 1st in time =1st in right.

Many states prefer "beneficial use" as the way to establish water priority. It makes sense, economically. Your example of a homeowner isn't the way it works, and doesn't really make sense. A wealthy homeowner with a deeper well isn't a more beneficial use. Perhaps a business employing several people might be, but then they'd pay for the rights.