About the Idaho Water Resource Board
Overview of the Roles & Responsibilities of the Idaho Water Resource Board
The roles and responsibilities of the Board and the Department is a constant source of confusion to most of the citizens, even some within the Idaho Department of Water Resources(IDWR). This overview is an attempt to summarize the responsibilities of the Board and how it is supported by IDWR.
Article XV, Section 7 of the Idaho Constitution called for the creation of a “Water Resource Agency” but did not establish the agency. In 1965, the 38th legislature established the Idaho Water Resource Board and defined its organization, powers and duties. Board organization and duties are established in Idaho Code § 42-1732 through § 42-1734 for those of you that might be interested in learning more.
The Board was created primarily due to concern that a more politically powerful state, federal government or other entity would gobble up Idaho water. When the Board was created it was provided authority, subject to legislative approval to "formulate and adopt a comprehensive state water plan for conservation, development, management and optimum use of all unappropriated water resources and waterways of the state in the public interest."
When the Board and the Department merged in 1974 Idaho Code § 42-1732 was modified to put the Board within IDWR. To assist the Board, the legislature added to the additional duties of the Director, "to perform administrative duties and such other functions as the Board may from time to time assign to the Director to enable the Board to carry out its powers and duties." — Idaho Code § 42-1805(6)
In addition to formulating and implementing the state water plan and comprehensive basin plans, which includes authorities to designate natural and protected rivers, the Board also provides financial assistance for water development and conservation projects. The Board has two accounts, water management and revolving development that it makes loans and grants from. A third account, the Aquifer Planning and Management Fund, was added by the Idaho Legislature in 2008, Idaho Code §42-1780. This fund was established for technical studies, facilitation services, hydrologic monitoring, measurement and Comprehensive Aquifer Planning and Management. Idaho Code §42-1779 authorized the Board to conduct a Comprehensive Aquifer Planning program across the state. The Board can also issue debt in the form of revenue bonds, where the proceeds are loaned to the entity requesting the financial assistance. The loan repayments then are the revenue used to repay the debt service on the bonds. The Board also adopts rules for well construction, well driller licensing, injection wells, geothermal resources, mine tailings impoundments, safety of dams and stream channel alterations. The Idaho Water Supply Bank is also the Board's responsibility as well as implementing legislative mandates as was done in 1995 with managed aquifer recharge.
Additional authorities and funding were given to the Board to purchase the Bell Rapids high lift irrigation project water rights for the purpose of satisfying the terms of the Nez Perce Agreement and to provide a water source to help mitigate problems on the Eastern Snake River Plain. Most recently the legislature appropriated funds and the Board acquired Pristine Springs an aquaculture and ranching operation near Twin Falls Idaho. This purchase included valuable water rights which were later sold to the city of Twin Falls and to ground water users who were at risk of being required to stop pumping. The Water Board is made up of eight members, appointed by the Governor to a four-year term. No more than four can be from the same political party and to insure representation of water users across the state one member is appointed from each of four districts and no more than three can be from any one district. Typically the Board meets every 6 to 8 weeks and often has special telephonic meetings to address specific issues that need immediate action. The Board has set up subcommittees to work on specific tasks or programs. For example the Board recently established a new subcommittee to evaluate minimum stream flow activities in South Central Idaho. In summary the Board is really about water resource development and planning. The Idaho Department of Water Resources Director supports the Board as needed and assigns staff, to help carry out its powers and duties.