Around this time 12 years ago, I was sitting in the Morrison Quadrangle on the campus of (then) Albertson College of Idaho listening to J.R. Simplot say something about the "Red Chinese" and the importance of getting—and keeping—water rights. It was the Official Wisdom, passed down from one of Idaho's greatest business leaders to the newest crop of graduates from the school that matriculated Joe Albertson, Robert Smylie and Simplot's own former son-in-law, C.L. "Butch" Otter.
That a self-made billionaire would mention "water rights" during a commencement speech in suburban Caldwell says everything you need to know about the centrality of water to Idaho's industry, lifestyle and even self identity.
Ours is indeed a thirsty land.
According to a 2014 report from the U.S. Geological Survey, Idahoans use more water per capita than anyone else in the country. Per person consumption was pegged at 168 gallons per day—No. 1 in the nation—and if agricultural use was included in the total, the number would rise to more than 10,000 gallons per day per Idahoan.
As weather experts are warning that the Western United States is facing the worst drought in 1,000 years, Idaho's water will become more precious. For some, that's a call for conservation—a sign both industrial and personal habits need to change. For others, it's all the more reason to invest in infrastructure, specifically, a 300-foot-tall earthen dam on the Weiser River that would flood an area 13.5 miles long and almost as big as the Anderson Ranch, Arrowrock and Lucky Peak reservoirs combined.
If that's the biggest construction project you've never heard of, don't worry: Boise Weekly staff writer Jessica Murri recently went on a flyover of the proposed dam site and has a full report here.CLARIFICATION: Per the U.S. Geological Survey Water Science Center, "Idaho only leads the nation in per capita domestic water use. We do not lead the nation in overall per capita use. We do lead the nation in total water withdrawals for aquaculture, we're second in the nation for total irrigation withdrawals and we're third in the nation for total withdrawals for all categories combined."