Washington, D.C. - Today a bill authored by Congressman Mike Simpson to permit existing water diversions in Idaho wilderness areas was passed by the Senate committee with jurisdiction on the issue. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, of which Senator Jim Risch is a member, passed H.R. 876, the Idaho Wilderness Water Resources Protection Act, by voice vote.
“Predating the existence of the wilderness areas, private land owners had received permits to maintain and repair water diversions that existed on national forest system lands,” said Risch. “Many of the permits have since expired leaving those who own the water diversions without options for maintaining their water systems. This legislation would protect these private property rights and give the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to reissue and issue special use authorizations to the owners of these diversion facilities within the Frank Church and the Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness areas.”
There are a number of water diversions in both the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and the Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness areas that have existed since before the wilderness areas were established. Simpson’s bill would allow the U.S. Forest Service to issue special use permits to owners of water systems, authority that it currently lacks.
“These water diversions already existed when the area was designated as wilderness,” said Simpson. “The owners of these facilities already hold a valid water right under Idaho’s law, and they’ve been using the diversion to provide water on their own land since before the wilderness designation. This bill goes back and provides the appropriate authorization that the wilderness acts overlooked, giving private land owners the ability to properly maintain and repair these diversions.”
Simpson added, “At some point in the future, all of these 25 existing diversions will need work done to ensure their integrity, and H.R. 876 will allow needed work to begin without delay. I’m pleased that it has moved another step in the legislative process today, and I look forward to it being passed by the Senate and signed into law.”
H.R. 876 now awaits consideration on the floor of the U.S. Senate.