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“It’s a broken system” – Idaho farmer reacts to state water battle

BLACKFOOT, Idaho (KIFI) - The war over water rights remains a hot button issue across Idaho.

Blackfoot farmer Jake Stander has anxiously followed the statewide issue of water rights over the last decade. Local News 8 had the opportunity to speak with Stander as he worked on his own irrigation system.

He told reporters that the system of statewide water rights, much like his own irrigation sprinkler, is broken.

"True leaders will not try to keep managing a broken system," Stander told Local News 8. "True leaders will step in and fix a broken system. And we are dealing with a broken system right now."

The conflict has even captured the attention of former Melaleuca CEO, Frank VanderSloot, used the platform of the company's Fourth of July celebration to draw attention to the ever-growing issue in the region.

For our interview with Mr. Vandersloot in response to his speech, click HERE.

The curtailment was the result of a shortfall of water to Twin Falls farmers and senior water right holders. Maintaining and replenishing the Snake Plain aquifer also plays a role.

But since 2005 the number of calls for water from this side of the state has risen drastically.

Jake says the root of the problem started in the 1980's, when Idaho Power filed a lawsuit against 7500 irrigators for a water shortfall.

"Jim Jones was our attorney general. They went to work trying to fight against, you know, one corporation having total control of a large swath of our water," Stander told reporters. "And with the Swan Falls agreement, Idaho Power is subordinate to all other agricultural uses...they said, 'we'll never make a water call against agriculture again.'"

Stander says that wasn't the end of their troubles.

"Not too long after that, the lawyers that were fighting in that Swan Falls suit...suddenly started representing farmers, and they pushed for conjunctive management," Stander told Local News 8. "And all of a 2005, I think it was they made their first water call on groundwater pumpers."

Stander isn't the only one on this side of the state who believes Idaho power has played a role in the water curtailment, both Frank Vandersloot and Brian Murdock (an Idaho farmer who was interviewed on Fox Business) have mentioned the company.

Local News 8 reached out to Idaho Power about these claims, the company has denied that it is somehow involved.

"Idaho Power produces power for our customers, and we produce that power for our customers to use," Idaho Power Senior Manager of Water Resources and Policy Kresta Davis told reporters over the phone. "When our customers are healthy and are using that, energy, and the company is healthy. And so it does not benefit the company to have a portion of our customer base not using our product. From a water supply perspective, if that water is not pumped from the aquifer, the benefits as far as hydro power, would be very difficult to, to prove up."

The power company also told reporters that they were represented by a team of internal lawyers in the 1985 lawsuit, who have since retired.

"I want to see Idaho power be successful because then being successful means a better power grid," said Stander. "It means more reliable power. We're not going to have power bumps. We're not going to have all these different issues related to our power systems. But at the same time, we all have to work together, and we can't have when when we're talking as the state of a whole and a whole, we can't have one greedy player in there, or else it's going to throw the whole balance off."

Under the new agreement to get through this year's growing season, farmers from both side of the state are set to negotiate a more permanent solution to the water shortfall.

Jake believes talking farmer to farmer can lead to a positive outcome. But if negotiations fail, he already has ideas for a legislative solution. 

"I honestly think if anyone making a water call was subject to an efficiency audit it'll benefit everyone in the state..." Stander told Local News 8. "...Not just here in the Snake basin, but throughout the entire state of Idaho that is ever subject to a water call. It protects everybody and everyone's interest."

Article Topic Follows: Idaho

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Seth Ratliff

Seth is a reporter for Local News 8.


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