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Klamath Falls Water Loss Could Happen in Idaho,
Summit Hears

by Pat McCoy
Capital Press - February 15, 2002

BOISE -- Witholding water from Klamath Basin farmers last summer was part of a concerted effort to pick off small producers, which is starting to target large growers as well, said Mike Ricks, a Rexburg, Idaho, grain producer.

"The people behind this kind of thing are trying to close up the West." But they'll have a fight on their hands, said Ricks at theis week's Idaho Ag Summit.

The history of how the Klamath Basin water fight developed, and what has happened since in the courts and in the streets of affected communities, opened the ag summit.

"When you start directly influencing people's families and livelihoods, you have a tiger by the tail," Ricks said. "The folks hurt by these kinds of actions will fight to their last breath like any other creature on this earth."

In 1994 meeting with officials of National Marine Fisheries Service, Ricks said he told them that, ultimately, humans are the most important species on earth.

"One of them looked me right in the eye, and said, 'I don't beleive that for one second.' That's the type of people who are running those agencies, and why some of these unintelligent decisions are being made," he said.

Drew Eggers, a Nampa, Idaho, mint grower and president of the food Producers of Idaho, said water is the most essential input for producing a crop.

"No matter where you farm, if you lose your water you're up a creek. I just hope this doesn't continue to happen, but it could happen anywhere. That's why we all have to be involved, and stay abreast of whatever issues come up, so we can make the end results come out in a favorable way for water users," he said.

A Possibility

The same kind of thing could happen in Idaho, depending on how the law is interpreted by officials, said Norm Semanko, a water law attorney and executive director of the Idaho Water Users Association. In fact, it almost did in 1993-94.

In July 1993, John Keys, Bureau of Reclamation commissioner who was then regional BuRec chief in Boise, received a letter from Washington telling him water could be rented or released under space holder contracts for endangered species, Semanko said.

As the 1994 drought developed, the Idaho and National Water Users associations got the attention of Idaho's congressional delegation, talked with BuRec, NMFS and other federal officials, he said.

"By April 1994, we had an official, written policy stating that BuRec was not to condemn water rights or take water. Rather, extra water needed for endangered species was to come from willing sellers only," said Semanko.

"Had it not been for our congressional delegation and John Keys, there would have been an entirely different story."

Speakers for the opening day of the annual Idaho Ag Summit also discussed snowpack and water supply projections, power rate projections, and how the Endangered Species Act is affecting Idaho.

The summit continued on Feb. 13, cluminating with the presentation of the Governor's Award for Excellence in Agriculture during the closing luncheon. This year's recipients are Kathy Alder, Melba, for education and advocacy; Dick Wittman, Culdesac, for environmental stewardship; Lewis McKellip, Nampa, for technical and marketing innovation; and William "Ted" Diehl, manager of the North Side Canal Co., for lifetime achievement.

by Pat McCoy Capital Press Staff Writer
Klamath Falls Water Loss Could Happen in Idaho, Summit Hears
Capital Press - February 15, 2002

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