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Water curtailment: Why Frank VanderSloot has joined the conversation

"Our farmers here have nothing to negotiate with."

Frank VanderSloot, Former CEO of Melaleuca

IDAHO FALLS, Idaho (KIFI) — Melaleuca hosts the Freedom Celebration over the Snake River each year for Independence Day. The fireworks show is always accompanied with music and live narration. Last week, the company's former CEO, Frank VanderSloot, used the platform to draw attention to an ever-growing issue in the region — water curtailment.

"Given the serious situation that has developed in our region over the past 30 days, I thought we should take a moment before the show and inform you of some alarming facts that you may not be aware of. The farmers in our area desperately need your support," VanderSloot read as part of the narration.

News anchor Todd Kunz had a chance Monday to ask him about that message and why he is so passionate about it.

In that message and the following interview with Kunz, VanderSloot talked about a water agreement made between water rights holders in Eastern Idaho and Southern Idaho.

"In 2015, there was an agreement made that nobody in this area knew about. We didn't know that it was even happening. We didn't know that it was going on. It was done behind closed doors, but it was an agreement and a negotiation for the entire economic community of everything from Ashton all the way to Pocatello, the entire agriculture  base. And what they were negotiating was how to calculate how much water our farmers could get versus the farmers in Twin Falls," said VanderSloot.

The Twin Falls farmers have senior water rights. Maintaining and replenishing the Snake Plain aquifer also plays a role. The same formula for calculations was kept five years after the agreement, at which point, VanderSloot said the state department of water resources changed the formula and we saw the results this past planting season.

The (Idaho) department of water resources demanded the water curtailment of 700,000 acres of Eastern Idaho farmland. VanderSloot said that number was lowered to 500,000 acres and eventually 330,000. Recently, a new agreement was made to get through this year's growing season, but a new agreement still lingers and needs to be made. The state has given a deadline.

"I'll give you until October 1. You guys, the same people come together and make a new deal. Well, our farmers here have nothing to negotiate with. That scares the living daylights out of these farmers. It scares me. I mean, the more I learn, the more interesting it gets and the more scary it gets," said VanderSloot.

VanderSloot is concerned for the area farmers, but said it goes well beyond that to every other industry, business, and household. He said it would be a dire economic situation if the agricultural lifeblood of Eastern Idaho is forced to dry up.

Kunz asked him what the solution is when it comes to a new water deal?

"You're not going to do that behind closed doors. We're going to be looking over your shoulder and and we're going to stand behind our farmers hopefully, and say you got to give them a better deal. But because getting them to agree to close down their farms when all of us depend on those farms, that's not okay," said VanderSloot.

VanderSloot said there is plenty of water, but the solution lies with managing the water better. He said the future of farming and this new agreement impacts jobs, property values, schools, and people choosing to live in Eastern Idaho or moving somewhere else. He said the domino effect is "outrageous."

Local News 8 will stay with this story both on-air and online.

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Todd Kunz

Todd is an anchor for Local News 8.


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