The Idaho Water Users Association had decided to get involved in a fight between two of its members in a dispute that’s been building for years at a high costs for the taxpayers of both.
The group that represents both private and governments that deliver and use water in the state took the side of the Pioneer Irrigation District. Caldwell and Pioneer Irrigation District have been fighting for a decade over how to address urban stormwater that has been drained through Pioneer’s canals and drains since the system was build a century ago. New federal regulations complicated the issue and presented new liabilities and even threatened Pioneer’s exemption under the Clean Water Act.
The two sides got nowhere and took their cases to court. After dueling court victories and unsuccessful efforts by to negotiate a deal with Pioneer to buy irrigation and drain facilities so the liabilities would be removed, the city began condemnation action to take over Pioneer’s drains, canals and ditches.
Previously the Water Users announced they were bringing a resolution to their entire membership later this month decrying the condemnation as a “water grab.” Caldwell responds that for its taxpayers, who pay both for the irrigation district and the city, the condemnation will dramatically reduce their fees for water and save both governments the hundreds of thousands of dollars they have spent on litigation.
So Friday the Water User’s continued their battle in the press against Caldwell. It said the forced takeover could result not in savings, but actually, “dramatic increases in the price local residents must pay for irrigation water.”
The Water Users argue that a proposed Bureau of Reclamation policy could increase the price charged for storage water dramatically when the irrigation water rights from the non-farm lands are transferred to another entity - like a city and a new contract is required with the Bureau.
“Just ask folks in Las Vegas and Phoenix if you want to see the difference in prices between irrigation and water classified as for municipal and industrial purposes,” said Norm Semanko, IWUA Executive Director.
I asked Bureau of Reclamation officials if what Semanko said is true. Tim Personius. deputy regional director at Bureau of Reclamation in Boise said the new policy Semanko referred to is still not finalized.
The latest draft, provided by Semanko, would require the higher pricing. But Personius said it is not clear the prices will go up for water users when a transfer is made to a city or by how much.
“The only thing that is certain is there would be a new contract between Reclamation and the city to deliver storage water,” Personius said.
Caldwell Mayor Garret Nancolas issued a statement in response to the Water User’s press release saying if the transfer of irrigation facilities and drains does not go forward it will cost people much more.
“If Caldwell does not control, and is not able to maintain, the drainage and irrigation facilities covered by the current project and (Pioneer) prevails in the litigation, the City could spend upwards of $100 million dollars building redundant drainage infrastructure,” Nancolas said in his press release.
Nancolas said Caldwell filed the condemnation action as a last resort.
“In fact, Caldwell has repeatedly made proposals to (Pioneer) to end the litigation and to agree to the transfer of certain rights and responsibilities so that private property rights can be preserved for both (Pioneer’s) agricultural customers and its residential customers,” Nancolas said.