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Economic and dam related articles

Idaho Power Fighting Bill to Recharge Aquifer

by Ysabel Bilbao Watch Video Clip, March 23, 2006

BOISE -- Whose water is it? And where it should go?

Idaho Power says a bill to replenish the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer would lead to higher electricity rates for its customers.

Idaho's biggest power company is battling the state over where so-called "leftover" water should go. People in Idaho fight over water and often those battles end up in court.

If Idaho Power and the state can't agree on what do with the water that spills over the top of dams on the Snake River, this battle could be headed to court.

"This is an unconstitutional taking of our water rights," said Lamont Keen, Idaho Power CEO.

According to Keen, House Bill 800 gives the state rights to recharge the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer before allowing Idaho Power to get the water levels it needs to produce hydro-electricity.

Keen says if passed, the bill would change decades of agreements between the state and Idaho Power, including a law giving the power company rights over the aquifer.

"It's been overworked and depleted and obviously the six years of drought did not help that, but it was in the process of being depleted prior to the drought. So certainly understand the issue, but who is responsible," said Keen.

Keen says the punishment should go to those who extracted the water from the aquifer and not Idaho Power's 460,000 customers.

"It could be more expensive for our customers, undoubtedly more expensive for our customers," said Keen.

House Speaker Bruce Newcomb is sponsoring the bill. He says the only thing affected is the aquifer, which is the size of Lake Erie and nearly empty.

And because of this year's potential run-off, Newcomb says it's the right opportunity to take any excess water, because a lot goes to waste.

"Why let 300,000 acre-feet of water go down every month to the ocean, that doesn't benefit anything. Instead of letting it go down, let it go to the aquifer," said Newcomb.

Newcomb's bill came after the attorney general found the state had the right to take water from the Snake River.

Idaho Power says it has the senior water rights, and all the water is currently being used.

But Newcomb says the state needs to use a portion of what's being spilled over the dams.

"What I am saying here is, what we are going to do is use water that has no official benefit to anyone including Idaho Power," said Newcomb.

Idaho Power sent out a letter to its customers this week explaining why it opposes the legislation, which keen says will increase electricity costs "substantially."

According to the bill, the purpose of the legislation is to divert expected flood flows this spring.

Ysabel Bilbao
Idaho Power Fighting Bill to Recharge Aquifer, March 22, 2006

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