the film
Commentaries and editorials

Otter Looks for New
Water Chief to Replace Dreher

by Dave Wilkins
Capital Press, December 22, 2006

Governor asks 11-year director to step down

Idaho will soon have a new state water director, and whoever is named to the post will immediately face some big challenges.

Gov.-elect Butch Otter will appoint a new director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources to replace Karl Dreher, who has held the position since May 1995.

Otter's transition team informed Dreher last week that he wouldn't be re-appointed.

Dreher had expressed interest in staying on under the new governor, but will instead leave at the end of the month.

"I very much appreciate having the opportunity to serve in a significant role and move Idaho's challenging water resource issues toward resolution," Dreher said in a statement. "The employees at the Department of Water Resources are among the best in the state. I wish them and my successor continued success."

State law requires the IDWR director to be a licensed engineer, department spokesman Mike Keckler said.

The department originally started out as the Office of State Engineer in 1895, and the professional requirement for the job hasn't changed.

A complex set of issues faces whomever is appointed to the post.

The state Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on the constitutionality of conjunctive management, a set of rules that has guided the joint management of surface and groundwater usage.

The outcome is widely expected to have a long-term impact on how water resources in Idaho are allocated and managed.

"First and foremost, the new director will have to deal with whatever decision the Supreme Court renders, and nobody knows what that will look like," said Norm Semanko, executive director of the Idaho Water Users Association. "That will be challenge No. 1."

Declining Snake River flows have triggered a slew of lawsuits and "water calls," demanding full allotment of water to senior water rights holders and the shutdown of junior groundwater pumping, if necessary.

Dreher issued a series of orders related to the water calls and subsequent mitigation plans submitted by junior water rights holders seeking to avoid curtailment.

The new water director will be thrust into that battle, along with the ongoing debate over salmon and steelhead recovery and flow augmentation.

Regardless of who is appointed, "it will be a challenge," Semanko said.

Dreher, who holds bachelor's and master's degrees in civil engineering from Colorado State University, was appointed by Gov. Phil Batt in 1995.

Dreher probably didn't please all water users in the state, but he tried to be fair, said John Thompson, director of information for the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.

Dreher knew, for instance, that "shutting off all groundwater pumpers" wasn't going to fix declining flows along the Thousand Springs stretch of the Snake River, Thompson said.

"I think he did everything he could to keep everyone whole," Thompson said. "Dreher was a statesman, the way he handled it, I thought."

Related Pages:
Idaho Report Claims Flow Augmentation Unjustified by Barry Espenson, Columbia Basin Bulletin - 11/3/00
Council Hears More Tutorials on Flow and Survival by Bill Rudolph NW Fishletter - 1217/2

Northwest Power Planning Council Meeting # 260, August 11-12, 1998

Karl J. Dreher, Director, Idaho Department of Water Resources, presented an overview of Idaho's experience with flow augmentation and his analysis of the relationship between historic flows and irrigation withdraws. He cited the National Marine Fisheries Service's Biological Opinion and the sliding scale targets it established to improve flows in the Columbia and Snake rivers. NMFS identified irrigation withdrawals as the principal reason Snake River flow targets could not be met; however, Mr. Dreher explained that his analysis shows that is not the case.

Mr. Dreher examined actual flow data to evaluate the significance of irrigation withdrawals on flows in the Snake River, the relationship between flows and travel time, and the potential for flow augmentation to improve travel time. His analysis of flows and water velocity shows that it is nearly impossible to increase the velocity of the Snake River through increased flows. He said that it would take 160 million acre-feet from a basin that produces an average annual runoff of 37 million acre-feet to maintain the average travel times and equivalent average velocities that occurred prior to the construction of the dams. Mr. Dreher continued saying that if flow augmentation is used, it would take 2.2 million acre-feet, which would increase the average velocity by about 0.1 miles per hour. This, he said, was unlikely to have a significant effect on salmon migration.

Dave Wilkins is based in Twin Falls, Idaho.
Otter Looks for New Water Chief to Replace Dreher
Capital Press, December 22, 2006

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation