House Backs Idaho Water Bill on Second Try
January 27, 2010
Just one week after an attempt to pass a similar bill fell short, the House on Wednesday easily passed legislation that would allow water facilities in two Idaho wilderness areas to continue operating.
The bill (HR 4474), sponsored by Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, would allow the Agriculture Department to operate 20 water facilities in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness areas in north central Idaho.
The water facilities, which include irrigation systems and a hydropower plant, predate the designation of the areas as wilderness, but were not addressed in the legislation that created the protected areas.
Lawmakers backed Minnick's bill by a vote of 415-0. A nearly identical measure (HR 3538) – sponsored by Idaho's other representative, Republican Mike Simpson – was turned back Jan. 20 by a vote of 225 to 191 when it failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed to win approval under suspension of the rules. When the earlier version came to a vote, 187 Democrats voted against it.
The defeat of the previous Idaho measure came after Republicans successfully blocked passage of an unrelated bill, sponsored by a Democrat, that was also considered under suspension of the rules.
Republicans on Wednesday complained about the decision by Democrats to bring the new version to the floor with Minnick as the lead sponsor. "Payback time, I guess, is once again in order on the floor of the House of Representatives" said Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas.
Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington, the ranking Republican on the Natural Resources Committee, accused Democrats of a "partisan switcheroo" to give Minnick credit for the bill's passage. However, Natural Resources Chairman Nick J. Rahall II, D-W.Va., credited both men for working in a bipartisan manner to produce the bill, and Minnick praised Simpson — who is listed as a cosponsor of the bill — for his efforts in passing it.
The bill would authorize the Agriculture Department to issue "special use" permits to allow the water facilities to continue. Private landowners who are responsible for their maintenance would have to prove that the facilities were in operation before the areas were designated as wilderness and that it would be impractical to move them out of the protected areas.