Property Rights Council Questions Drinking Water Protection
The controversial Bonner County Property Rights Council recommends to Bonner County Commissioners that they reject a proposal to provide additional protections to drinking water sources.
In its first official action, the Bonner County Property Rights Council has drafted a recommendation to the county commissioners that they reject a proposed watershed protection ordinance that would protect certain drinking water supplies.
Not familiar with this particular government agency? This new layer of government in Bonner County raised eyebrows last year when the county commissioners created it to be their watchdog for private property rights. They also attracted media attention by hiring Pam Stout, a well-known Tea Party activist, as the council's paralegal staff.
One of the first targets of the Property Rights Council is the proposed Watershed Protection Overlay District ordinance, which is meant to help protect public drinking water systems that rely on surface water.
This new ordinance, if approved, would allow municipalities—such as Sandpoint and Priest River—or water associations with 15 or more hook-ups, to apply for a watershed protection district. To be approved, they have to show a potential for watershed contamination from current and potential land uses, reliable data for proposed district boundaries, and that there's little potential for loss of existing property uses.
If approved, extra care with land uses would be encouraged within the district boundaries, especially near to the surface water intake. Some uses with a high potential to contaminate water sources, such as the manufacture of explosives, would not be allowed. Existing land uses, however, would be allowed.
The Property Rights Council has spent several meetings discussing this ordinance after the Bonner County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval last August. In addition, the Idaho Rural Water Association (IRWA) sent the Council a 10-page letter explaining the need for watershed protection, particularly in Bonner County where nearly 35 percent of the population is served by surface water.
Of the 11 community water systems in Bonner County that depend on surface water, six have been affected by surface water contamination by activities outside their jurisdiction, according to the IRWA.
In its draft decision, the Property Rights Council sees the largely voluntary watershed overlay districts as infringing on private property rights and has renamed them "Zones of Coercion Overlay," or ZOCOs.
In a recent meeting, the commissioners' civil attorney, Scott Bauer, argued that surface water protection ordinances are unnecessary. Property owners can protect their water through nuisance laws that allow citizens to sue if their water is contaminated, he argued.
That might offer property owners some compensation, but it won't keep water from getting contaminated in the first place. As IRWA points out: "It is fair to say that for every dollar invested in source water protection, a water system could expect to match as much as 100 dollars more to remediate contamination when it occurs."
The Property Rights Council forwarded their recommendation to the commissioners. You can read more on a recent Kootenai Environmental Alliance blog post.