Idaho executive order protects water industry from federal intervention

(The Center Square) – Idaho Gov. Brad Little issued an executive order Wednesday meant to protect Idaho’s water resources from federal intervention.

The order comes after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked an agreement between water users in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado over the Rio Grande Compact, asserting federal control in water disputes.

That decision from the conservative-leaning court establishes a precedent for federal involvement in state water management, a concern that resonates in Idaho amid ongoing water issues, according to a news release from Little.

The ruling on the Rio Grande amplifies fears of federal intervention in Idaho’s water management.

Little emphasized the importance of local solutions over federal impositions, including significant investments in water infrastructure and the establishment of a Groundwater Management Plan Advisory Council.

Idaho’s Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer has been declining since the 1950s, according to Little.

This has led to disputes between groundwater users in eastern Idaho and surface water users in the Magic Valley.

The state almost faced a curtailment order on groundwater rights, meaning that water rights for certain stakeholders would be taken away or restricted.

Little says that Idahoans reached a compromise, focusing on long-term solutions based on science and mutual needs.

“But what happens if we don’t find a long-term solution?,” Little asks.

These conflicts revolve around water rights and usage priorities, risking economic stability and livelihoods, Little said.

“I heard the repeated calls for me to step in and stop the director from administering the law as he is legally required to do,” Little wrote. “If I had stepped in, Idaho would have set a dangerous precedent of allowing the executive branch to ignore the Idaho Constitution, a choice that likely would lead us down the path toward … federal and judicial intervention.”

The Rio Grande Compact, approved by Congress in 1938, allocates the river’s water among the three states and relies on the Federal Bureau of Reclamation’s Rio Grande Project to manage water distribution.

In 2013, Texas sued New Mexico and Colorado, claiming that New Mexico’s excessive groundwater pumping was depleting water supplies meant for Texas.

The feds intervened in 2018, supporting Texas’s claims to ensure water delivery as per the Compact terms.

The June 21 ruling denied a decree to resolve the dispute and establish a methodology for water allocation, with the court arguing that the decree would settle the Compact claims without federal consent.

Little’s executive order directed the Idaho Department of Natural Resources to improve water supply modeling technology, improve the state’s water infrastructure and increased funding for the ESPA.

“The government will bring together industries and stakeholders to propose solutions for long-term water sustainability because the ingenuity of the private sector is far more desirable in seeking solutions than relying on the government to do so,” the order states.