For years Idaho farmers and ranchers have stood their ground against both the Federal government and environmental activists that have misused the Endangered Species Act to strip Idaho of its sovereignty over its water in the name of salmon recovery.
We've been attacked by extremist enviros as being Chicken Little alarmists when we warn that devastating economic and social impacts will follow if irrigation water stored in Idaho reservoirs is taken away from farmers and sent down the Snake River in the scientifically discredited theory it can restore salmon runs.
So why do we fight so hard to keep control of Idaho's water in the hands of Idahoans?
We need only look to a the Klamath River Basin to see what can happen. It is like running out a "what if it happened in Idaho " scenario that can help you understand the true nature of the argument.
In 2001 the Federal government simply took the bulk of the irrigation water entitlement of farmers and ranchers in the Klamath Basin of Oregon and northern California. The water, taken under the mantle of the ESA, was used by the government in an effort to help threatened Coho salmon in the Klamath River and the sucker fish in Upper Klamath Lake.
As a result, 180,000 acres of irrigated cropland were dried up. That action cost area residents hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. Farmers could not grow their crops. Families lost their homes and land because they couldn't make the mortgage payments anymore. It was a devastating blow to the financial and social fabric of the Klamath Basin, an impact that will last for years.
The federal government refused to consider compensation. It claims the ESA required the water be taken to protect endangered species. Those farmers and ranchers filed suit in federal court arguing that denying them water to which they are entitled was pure and simple a government "taking" of private property, and compensation must be paid. A hearing was recently held and we all await the ruling.
Common sense tells you the farmers and ranchers are right and that they should be compensated for their losses. But common sense is something often in short supply when the Endangered Species Act is involved.
The point for Idahoans is not what happened in Klamath. It's that it did happen. Right up to the instant federal agents closed shut irrigation headgates, people believed something like that just couldn't happen in America. But it did.
The message for Idaho is that it can also happen in the Snake River Basin.
It's a message Idahoans need to hear and take seriously. It's also the reason we fight so hard to keep control of Idaho's water.