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OPINION: A compliment to Raul Labrador for wanting to learn about Idaho water

by JIM JONES/Special to The Press
| September 2, 2022 1:00 AM

It may seem out of place for the treasurer of one candidate for Attorney General to compliment the other candidate, but water law and policy is so vital to the future of Idaho that a compliment should be given when it is in order. There should be no place for politics where Idaho water is concerned. Raul Labrador is to be commended for participating in a water tour conducted by the Idaho Water Users Association in Southwest Idaho on Aug. 24. He reportedly rode in a van with Ammon Bundy and several other political candidates to learn about canals, wastewater treatment and related subjects during a seven-hour tour of Ada and Canyon Counties.

The Water Users, which is a preeminent advocate for sound water policy in Idaho, is to be commended for acquainting politicians with the basics of this all-important issue. The candidates deserve credit for wanting to learn about the importance of water to Idaho.

It took me decades to learn the ins and outs of water law and policy and I do not pretend to be any kind of expert. As Attorney General in the 1980s, I fought a years-long battle with Idaho Power over control of the Snake River that involved skirmishes in the Idaho Courts and Legislature, in federal agencies and in the U.S. Congress. Former Governor John Evans and I were able to achieve a favorable settlement that required an adjudication of all water rights in the Snake River Basin, which protected individual water rights and prevented encroachment by outside interests.

My preferred AG candidate, Tom Arkoosh, has spent decades practicing water law. He’s dedicated to helping resolve competing claims to this valuable resource in order to serve the needs of farmers, stockmen, businesses and communities. Just this week Tom lambasted the federal government for trying to overcome Idaho water laws pertaining to water rights on federal grazing lands. He stands strong for the proposition that water rights in our State should be controlled by State law and decided in State courts. He would certainly encourage his opponent to join him in this federal-state fight.

Both of us encourage Mr. Labrador to continue his water studies, but we offer a valuable piece of advice. Ignore suggestions from our sister states as to how best to manage Idaho water. Following his water tour, Labrador told his Facebook followers they “want an Attorney General who will defend our water rights and craft sensible policies with our sister states to ensure we have the resources necessary for sustained economic growth.”

I spent a good deal of time as Attorney General fighting off determined efforts by our dear sister states to get their hands on Idaho’s precious water. If a sister state proposes a “sensible” policy it claims will ensure growth in Idaho, the best response is to run the other way as fast as possible. Every state bordering Idaho would love to have Idaho water to ensure the growth of its own economy.

There are rules in place to keep Wyoming and Utah from encroaching upon Idaho water, but that does not mean they would not try to get some of our water. Utah would love to grab as much of the Bear River as humanly possible and it has made moves in that direction. During my tenure as AG, Washington and Oregon employed any number of federal laws to try to open up the flow of the Snake River to benefit their own people. I would not trust the State of Nevada either, with its increasing thirst for water.

It does take some time for a newbie to get the hang of a complicated new issue, but you have to give a beginner credit for trying. As the campaign moves forward, we can all repeat the mantra to Mr. Labrador, “Don’t trust our sister states with Idaho water because once they get it they won’t give it back,”

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Jim Jones is a Vietnam combat veteran who served eight years as Idaho attorney general and 12 years as a justice on the Idaho Supreme Court. He serves as treasurer of the Arkoosh campaign.

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