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Idaho Wilderness Water Resources Protection Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. SIMPSON. I thank the gentleman from Utah for yielding.

Mr. Speaker, I rise today in support of H.R. 876, the Idaho Wilderness Water Resources Protection Act. This bipartisan, noncontroversial legislation is a technical fix intended to enable the Forest Service to authorize and permit existing historical water diversions within the Idaho wilderness.

A few years ago, one of my constituents came to me for help with a problem. The Middle Fork Lodge has a water diversion within the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area that existed before the wilderness area was established and is protected under statute.

The diversion was beginning to leak and was in desperate need of repairs to ensure that it did not threaten the environment and watershed, but it turned out that the Forest Service did not have the authority to issue the lodge a permit to make the necessary repairs.

As we looked into this issue, we discovered that the Forest Service lacked this authority throughout both the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, where there are 22 known water developments, and the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, where there are three. These diversions are primarily used to support irrigation and minor hydropower generation for use on non-Federal lands. While the critical situation at the Middle Fork Lodge brought this issue to my attention, it is obvious to me that this problem is larger than just one diversion. At some point in the future, all 25 of these existing diversions will need maintenance or repair work done to ensure their integrity.

H.R. 876 authorizes the Forest Service to issue special use permits for all qualifying historic water systems in these wilderness areas. I believe it is important to get ahead of this problem and to ensure that the Forest Service has the tools necessary to manage these lands.

For these reasons, I have introduced H.R. 876. This legislation, which was passed by the House during the last two Congresses, allows the Forest Service to issue the required special use permits to owners of historic water systems, and it sets out specific criteria for doing so. Providing this authority will ensure that existing water diversions can be properly maintained and repaired when necessary and preserves beneficial use for private property owners who hold water rights under State law.

I have deeply appreciated the cooperation of the Forest Service in addressing this problem. Not only have they communicated with me the need to find a systemwide solution to this issue, but at my request, they have drafted this legislation to ensure that it only impacts specific targeted historical diversions--those with valid water rights that cannot feasibly be relocated out of the wilderness area.

H.R. 876 is bipartisan and noncontroversial. It is intended as a simple, reasonable solution to a problem that I think we can all agree should be solved as quickly as possible. I am hopeful that we can move this bill through the legislative process without delay so that the necessary maintenance to these diversions may be completed before the damage is beyond repair.

I urge my Members to support this legislation.


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