Amid irrigation lawsuit, Idaho's House speaker pledges best efforts in 'optimizing water resources' - East Idaho News

Amid irrigation lawsuit, Idaho’s House speaker pledges best efforts in ‘optimizing water resources’

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Scott Bedke, Idaho’s Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, spoke with reporter Rett Nelson about a lawsuit involving irrigators in the Magic Valley and eastern Idaho. Watch our entire conversation in the video above. | Rett Nelson,
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IDAHO FALLS – Water is a precious commodity in the Gem State, particularly during a drought. Scott Bedke, Idaho’s speaker of the House, says he is committed to taking care of the water supply for Idaho’s farmers.

Bedke, a Republican from Oakley, is one of three candidates for lieutenant governor who will appear on the ballot in November. His opponents are Democrat Terri Pickens Manweiler from Boise and Constitutionalist Pro-Life from Letha, Gem County.

During a visit to eastern Idaho this week, Bedke stopped by the studio to discuss multiple hot-button issues ahead of the upcoming election. Among them is a lawsuit about water resources between canal irrigators in the Magic Valley and groundwater irrigators on this side of the state.

An agreement between the parties gives Magic Valley senior water rights. To prevent the water supply from being cut off in eastern Idaho, groundwater irrigators agreed in 2015 that they’d take measures to conserve water and recharge the aquifer at the end of the growing season.

“(Both parties) knew that we were collectively taking more water out of the ground than was coming back in naturally and that our water budget was out of balance,” Bedke says of the agreement. “It set us on a course to stop the drop in the aquifer and begin to raise the levels.”

The next few years were good water years, and everything worked out great. When the drought came along in 2021, it left little water available for recharge. Rain showers in May and June provided some temporary relief, but it hasn’t been enough to restore water levels.

Farmers in the Magic Valley are now saying that because of the lack of recharge, eastern Idaho did not keep its end of the bargain. Both sides are back at the negotiating table.

Bedke, who owns a ranch in Magic Valley and has a vested interest in the issue, is involved in mediating this discussion. He says the initial agreement is not black and white, and the language makes it adaptable. He’s hoping for a mutually agreeable solution that protects the water supply.

“What we did in 2015 — we thought that would accomplish the goal. It’s not quite going to do that, and so there needs to be some internal adjustments,” Bedke says. “We need to keep our eye on the prize, which is to get the agreement on a trajectory that will take good care of our water resources.”

He suggests replenishing the aquifer in good water years so that there’s a reserve to use in years when there is no spring runoff. Putting the water back in the ground where it will do the most good is also important, he says.

Since Idaho is the fastest-growing state in the nation, with agriculture being the main economic driver, having a balanced water supply is critical for the future of the state’s economy, says Bedke.

Amid fears in eastern Idaho of losing access to water, Bedke pledges his best efforts in being fair to both sides, the Constitution and state water laws and “optimizing water resources in the arid west.”

“We’re going through a drought, and our (water) systems throughout the west are not drought-proof. We need to be making Idaho’s system drought-proof,” he says. “You’re seeing the start of a more serious conversation about balancing the water. If it’s any consolation, we are doing it better than Colorado and other states.”

Bedke says the sooner a solution is reached, the better so farmers can plan accordingly. He’s anticipating a modified agreement by next spring.

Bedke also weighed in on Congressman Mike Simpson’s plan to breach four dams on the lower Snake River, Idaho’s abortion law, the increase of fentanyl usage, ESG scores and the recent tax cut and education spending bill. WATCH OUR ENTIRE CONVERSATION IN THE VIDEO ABOVE.