Farm Bureau Opposes
by Associated Press
TWIN FALLS, Idaho -- The Idaho Farm Bureau Federation has formalized its opposition to the state-federal-tribal agreement that would end one of the largest water rights disputes in the West.
The federation, one of the state’s most politically influential organizations, voted 48-19 during its annual convention this week against the agreement to settle Nez Perce tribal claims to nearly all the water in the Snake River and its tributaries.
“What it came down to was they just felt like there was more risk in buying into the agreement — especially for the Northern Idaho people — than the risk of winding up in court,” spokesman John Thompson said.
Congress approved the deal last month. State and tribal ratification is still required for the agreement that was announced in June after five years of negotiation.
It gives the Nez Perce Tribe annual rights to 50,000 acre feet of water in the Clearwater River and $80 million in cash and land in return for dropping claims to nearly all the water in the Snake River and its tributaries. The state and federal governments also pledged tens of millions of dollars for fish habitat and other environmental improvements.
The bill would protect irrigators in the Upper Snake River Basin and some loggers and landowners in the Clearwater and Salmon river basins from endangered species-based lawsuits.
Norm Semanko, director for the Idaho Water User’s Association, said he will meet with Farm Bureau leaders soon.
“A number of other statewide associations have come out in favor of the agreement,” Semanko said. “The burden will be on the Farm Bureau to discuss what their concerns are.”
The agreement would provide a major component in the resolution of the adjudication of more than 150,000 water rights throughout the Snake River Basin, which covers nearly all the state.
Potentially compounding the problem of sorting out those water rights was the unexpected assignment of moderate Republican Sen. Gary Schroeder of Moscow as chairman of the Resource and Environment Committee, which will handle the state legislation on the Nez Perce deal.
Schroeder was shifted to the resource committee from the Education Committee, where he had frequently clashed with party leaders over high profile issues like more financial support for public schools and restrictions on charter schools during his eight years as chairman.
It had widely been expected that conservative Republican Sen. Don Burtenshaw, a Terreton rancher, would take over the Resource and Environment Committee from Laird Noh of Kimberly, the senior member of the Senate who retired this year.
Noh had worked with Burtenshaw throughout the summer and fall on water issues.
Although some Southern Idaho interests have expressed concern about Schroeder’s knowledge of water issues, the senator has monitored negotiations on key water issues this summer and fall and has been a member of the resource committee for the past decade, serving as vice chairman in 1994.
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