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ID Water Politics in Play

March 24, 2008

Boise, ID – Water politics are running high through the Idaho Statehouse. As the legislative session enters its final days, a bill may surface to spend almost $2 million to study building new dams, and even to rebuild Teton Dam.

Backers of the measure say that, with less water falling naturally on Idaho, more of what does arrive needs to be stored. They're also promoting new dams for flood control and to ensure enough water for new development.

Kevin Lewis with Idaho Rivers United disagrees with their proposals. He says dealing with water shortages by building dams is an old and outmoded way of thinking, and suggests that other water-saving methods should be explored instead.

"I think we need to step back and examine all the other options we have: water conservation, water efficiency, the priority of use. We need to ask if we're putting water to its best use."

Lewis says cost is another factor to be considered, with a new dam running upwards of $1 billion. Even doing studies on dams is expensive, he points out, especially when the state budget is growing tight.

"The federal government is not in the business of paying for big dams any more. They have to be paid for locally, and who's got the money in Idaho to build another Teton Dam?"

If more water storage is needed, Lewis says, it's possible some existing dams could be expanded.

The Teton Dam in southeastern Idaho failed catastrophically soon after it was finished in 1976, and has never been rebuilt.

Deborah Smith/Craig Eicher, Public News Service - ID