Bruce Newcomb, who served 20 years in the Idaho House of Representatives including 8 years as Speaker, published a very important opinion piece a few days ago. He says that water policy, which will affect the future of Idaho more than practically anything else, has been given short shrift in the election campaign. He correctly points out that our incumbent Attorney General, Lawrence Wasden, has led the way in protecting Idaho water and must be re-elected to continue that important work.
I whole-heartedly agree. The following is Bruce’s opinion piece:
I have barely heard mention during the current election cycle of what should be the main issue in the Idaho primary election this year–protection of Idaho’s precious water resources. As far as issues go, water is not a shiny attention-getter like voter integrity, critical race theory or jailing librarians, but it is the very lifeblood of our semi-arid State.
In 1889, one of the framers of Idaho’s Constitution commented that, without water, you couldn’t even raise a crop of jackrabbits on the State’s land. With years of chronic drought predicted for the Gem State, water is becoming even more essential to the future of Idaho.
No State officer has more ability to affect Idaho’s water future than the Attorney General. The Governor obviously has significant influence over water policy, but the AG can dramatically affect the control, allocation and protection of Idaho water through federal and state court proceedings.
I come from a family of farmers and water users, whose livelihood has always been tied to the State’s water policy. When the Swan Falls water rights fight erupted between the State and Idaho Power Company in early 1983, I stepped forward to do my part. It was inspiring to see Attorney General Jim Jones put his career on the line to protect Idaho’s control over Snake River waters. I worked with Jim and numerous legislators whose cities, farms and voters were at risk and we prevailed.
My 20 years of service in the Idaho Legislature, starting in 1986, was motivated by a concern over maintaining water policies that would facilitate growth of Idaho cities, farms and industries dependent on using Idaho waters for the State’s future. When Idaho Power made efforts in the 1990s to undo some of the protections for water users in the upper Snake River Valley, Attorney General Al Lance put his foot down.
An even more concerted effort was vigorously opposed by Attorney General Lawrence Wasden after I left office in 2006. He fearlessly fought the effort publicly and in court action, until the parties were able to reach a Swan Falls affirmation agreement in 2009 to protect our water using population. Wasden’s unrelenting work since then to protect Idaho water resources has been exemplary.
He has strongly and successfully resisted federal overreach when litigating and/or negotiating federal water right claims relating to river basin adjudications in all parts of the State. He has vigorously fought to preserve the State’s authority to adjudicate Clark Fork and Bear River waters in State courts.
Believe it or not, there are water-hungry interests within our State and along our southern and western borders that see the immense value of Idaho water and are intent on getting their hands on substantial portions of it. This comes at a time when the State faces the crisis of a prolonged period of drought. It is absolutely essential that the State have an Attorney General with a proven track record to protect our water–an Attorney General who has shown time and again that he will put his job on the line to uphold Idaho’s sovereignty and the rule of law. That person is Lawrence Wasden.
Voters should not be distracted by shiny-object issues that will disappear once the election is over. The real issues should be those meat-and-potato issues that, while not particularly designed to excite our attention, will actually determine the future of our children and grandchildren. Water is at the very top of that list.
Bruce Newcomb is a lifelong Idaho rancher. He served 20 years in the Idaho House of Representatives (1986 through 2006) and was Speaker of the House for 8 years (1999 through 2006). He was inducted into the Idaho Hall of Fame in 2010.