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Newcomb Expects Water to Dominate Session

by Julie Pence, Times-News writer
Times-News, November 19, 2003

TWIN FALLS -- Look for the 2004 legislative session to run short, and expect the dominant issue to be the controversies surrounding Idaho's water, says House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley.

"The one big issue -- water issues," Newcomb said Tuesday.

At the center of it all is salmon, he explained. Environmentalists are suing to make sure there is enough water for successful salmon reproduction. The Nez Perce Tribe wants all of the Snake River water in order to save Idaho salmon and spawning habitat. Idaho Power Co. is involved in those talks. Dams are caught up in the controversy because flow and water temperature is altered when water is backed up for irrigation and hydroelectricity. And adding a sense of urgency to finding a solution with which all parties can live is the ongoing drought.

Then there is the latest wrinkle in the pile of water problems: the recent call for water through a lawsuit against the Idaho Department of Water Resources by Clear Lakes Trout Co. Talks among environmental groups, the state, water users and the Legislature become more complicated because the state is being sued. That prevents lawmakers from getting information from the state attorney general's office, Newcomb said.

Without information from the state, lawmakers won't be able to fashion a vehicle "where everyone can become privy to everyone's proposal and try to get a buy-in without negotiating everyone down," Newcomb said.

Kimberly Republican Laird Noh, who chairs the Senate Resource Committee, said he expects there will be plenty discussion about water issues, but he was reluctant to comment on details.

"There are a number of interconnected issues, and what occurs with one can affect another," Noh said. "But these are the kinds of conflicts that will involve compromise and coalitions. That's pretty vague, I know. There are discussions going on that might be helpful in resolving some of these issues, but those aren't finalized and up for public discussion yet."

In addition, Noh pointed out what happens in the courts will have a lot to do with the timing of solutions.

"The natural resource committee only has 40 hours a year to deal with all of the natural resource issues, including fish and game, parks, water, budget matters. That's really very little time to deal with oversight and legislation," Noh said.

Newcomb said if all business aside from water issues is taken care of by the end of March, he's likely to suggest adjourning until some water solutions can be brought out. Then he would ask Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to convene a special session.

Julie Pence, Times-News writer
Newcomb Expects Water to Dominate Session
The Times-News, November 19, 2003

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