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SB 1021: Blocking Priest River restoration – 2023

Summary: Senate Bill 1021 seeks to block any potential future projects, designed to reduce water temperatures in the Priest River in North Idaho below the outlet of Priest Lake. The bill would require the Governor and Legislature to approve proposals designed to improve trout habitat and water quality in Priest River.

ICL's position: Oppose

Current Bill Status: Signed by Governor

Issue Areas: Bull Trout, Fish and Wildlife, Priest Lake, Water Quality

Official Legislative Site

Sen. Scott Herndon (R-Sagle) introduced Senate Bill 1021 which seeks to block specific options designed to improve and protect water quality and trout habitat in Priest River, below the outlet of Priest Lake.

Due to high water temperatures, Priest River does not support a healthy trout fishery, and efforts are needed to improve habitat for Westslope cutthroat trout and Bull trout, a threatened species. A new collaborative has formed to address these issues, and unfortunately this bill attempts to predetermine and block certain proposals from consideration by that local stakeholder group.

For several years, advocates have studied the potential for a bypass system to deliver colder water from the depths of Priest Lake to Priest River. It could be similar to systems in place at Sullivan Lake (just west of Priest Lake in Washington State) and at Payette Lake. While a bypass is only one potential alternative that the collaborative may consider, this bill represents an end-run on what should be a local process to solve a local challenge with local stakeholders.

Finally, the bill requires gubernatorial and legislative approval before any future bypass project is implemented, however it remains unclear what process they would use to “approve” of any project. According to Sen. Herndon, it would take an amendment to Idaho Code if alternative water sources were proposed. The fact is that the Idaho Water Resource Board, legislature and/or Governor Little would all have opportunities to weigh in on any proposal that comes forward.