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Title: Idaho Denies Water For Massive Power Plants, Decision "A Victory For All"
Author: Barry Rosenberg, Timm Ormsby, Chase Davis, Justin Hayes, Rachael Paschal Osborn
Date: July 18, 2002 | ID#: 020718
Category: Aquifer
Keywords: Aquifer

visits since August 19, 2003


For additional information:

Barry Rosenberg (208) 667-9093
Timm Ormsby, 509-939-2048
Chase Davis 509-990-0170
Justin Hayes 208-345-6933 ext. 24
Rachael Paschal Osborn 509.328-1087

Today the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) denied two water rights from the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer to Cogentrix and Newport Generation for building two massive natural-gas-fired power plants at Rathdrum, Idaho. The two plants would have pumped and evaporated 17 million gallons of fresh water each day from the Spokane-Rathdrum Aquifer.

"This is a victory for the 450,000 people who depend on this aquifer," said Barry Rosenberg of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance. "As we brace for another long, hot summer and see the Spokane River reduced to a trickle, we are reminded just how precious is our Aquifer."

"Water equates to jobs," said Timm Ormsby with the Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho Building Trades Council. "The power plants would have pumped our Aquifer, turned it to steam, and shipped the energy and our jobs south. This decision keeps the water and the jobs local."

The IDWR hearing officer, Glen Saxton, found that Cogentrix's proposal to evaporate 1.5 billion gallons of water per year, and Newport Generation's proposal to evaporate 2.3 billion gallons of water per year "is not reasonable." He also found that "there will be a need for additional water and power on the Rathdrum Prairie as the population of the northwest increases. A commitment of water for the sole purpose of power generation for a period of 30 years at the expense of other future worthwhile uses is shortsighted and is contrary to conservation of water resources in Idaho, particularly when technology is available to reduce the amount of water required for power production."

The two power plants would have created only about 60 long-term jobs but used enough pure water to supply households for 100,000 people. Water pulled from the Aquifer would have been entirely evaporated and the energy exported out of the Inland Northwest.

The protests were filed last July, and led to two weeks of hearings in February and March. Local residents and expert witnesses testified to the aquifer's limits and the potential impacts of the project. Don Jacklin of Jacklin Seed testified about declining water levels in his nearby wells and Ken Lustig with the Panhandle Health District testified that the aquifer may be reaching the limit of its ability to replenish itself. Dr. Scott Bozman of Gonzaga University predicted 116,000 more people will live in Kootenai and Spokane Counties between 2000-2010, placing increasing demand on a limited Aquifer. Dr. Philip Mote of the University of Washington warned of accelerating climatic changes that will worsen late summer water shortages. Economist and energy expert Dr. Lon Peters of Portland testified that these plants are highly speculative.

"In a world of increasingly short supplies of drinking water, Idaho made the right decision," said Julian Powers of the Friends of the Aquifer. "As our climate changes no one knows what the future will hold. Removing water from the Aquifer will rob the Spokane and Little Spokane Rivers of water. River levels are already dangerously low. The price of water is constant vigilance."

"We want responsible development with environmental protections built in," said Doug Barnard of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local #73. "We want both good jobs and protections for our communities' drinking water. This decision from Boise does both."

Washington and Idaho have radically divergent approaches to Aquifer management. Washington, recognizing limits on the Aquifer has stopped issuing water permits and has encouraged analysis and planning. Idaho, in contrast, has continued to issue water permits for large withdrawals from the aquifer and has no planning process. There is currently no joint-management of the Aquifer.

"When it comes to water, the western states have a sorry record of overallocating," said Chris Meyer of the Idaho Conservation League. "Only after the wells and rivers run dry do the states come back and try to sort it all out. Idaho's next step is to impose an interim hold on any more major withdrawals of water from the Aquifer until the Aquifer study is completed."

In March, citizens and organizations asked IDWR to impose an interim hold on issuing major new water rights until the Aquifer is studied, and a compact on joint management can be completed between the two states. Idaho has the authority to designate the Rathdrum Aquifer as a groundwater management area or critical groundwater area, and has used that authority to protect Aquifers in the Boise area.

"This signals a new era in bi-state cooperation over the use of the Aquifer," said Chase Davis of the Sierra Club. "The state line was a huge mistake of history, and because of Boise's decision, Idaho and Washington are poised to work together as neighbors to protect our water: the future of the Inland Northwest."

"This is a very sensible decision," said Rachael Paschal Osborn, the lead attorney for the environmental and labor coalition challenging the power plants. "The Aquifer simply isn't large enough to allow these companies to evaporate nearly 4 billion gallons each year, especially to generate electricity for some other part of the country."

"This was a team effort on behalf of the region and our communities' future," continued Osborn. "My clients represent literally thousands of people from all walks of life living in north Idaho and eastern Washington. This is a victory for all."

The coalition that challenged the energy companies over the Aquifer are the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 73, Friends of the Aquifer, Upper Columbia River Group Sierra Club, REBOUND, and the Idaho Conservation League.