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HB 1: Accounting for Water in the Boise Basin – 2019

Summary: HB 1 would change the accounting of water in the Boise River Basin, but would continue to leave important winter stream flows at risk.

ICL's position: Neutral

Current Bill Status: Law

Issue Areas: Clean Water

Official Legislative Site

House Bill 1, introduced on the first day of the 2019 legislative session, would clarify how releases of floodwater from the Boise River system would be accounted for and managed in light of existing water storage rights. Idaho has a complicated system to govern water rights, and this bill seeks to clarify that senior water rights will be satisfied during years when the Army Corps of Engineers releases water for flood control – when there’s plenty of water. So, the system largely appears to be a paper exercise, because in years when there are flood flows virtually everyone gets their water.

One concern is that the bill, and the existing agreements in place, leave the Boise River susceptible to drying up during the winter months. While there is an agreement in place between the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the Bureau of Reclamation to release wintertime water into the Boise River downstream of the reservoirs, the agreement is not sufficient to ensure that the river doesn’t dry up. Ultimately, these “streamflow maintenance” flows are the first thing that would be cut in the event of a water shortage. In the future, the Legislature, Idaho Department of Water Resources and others would be wise to identify approaches to ensure that the Boise River continues flowing year-round, because a river without water … isn’t a river.