Priest River, Idaho

Last year, it seemed like winter would never end. This year, winter can’t decide if it’s coming or going. Idaho’s snowpacks are paying the price. Only a few of our basins along the southern border show above-average snowpack levels, with a handful sitting at close to average. An alarming number of basins in the middle and northern reaches are below 80%.

After the heavy snows of 2023, this year reminds us that Mother Nature won’t always cooperate with our water needs. It’s why we must continue our investments in critical water infrastructure that helps us weather the dry years. From raising Anderson Ranch Dam in the west to developing recharge sites in the east, we’ve committed to tackling projects that will help protect and sustain Idaho’s water.

But we can’t let up on that commitment or the investments. Other communities and regions in our state face challenges with their aquifers, water quality, and water management systems. This year, we can continue to chip away at the backlog. A proposal under consideration by the legislature will provide $30 million for already identified water projects from around the state.

Like our roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, we need a long-term plan and ongoing investment in water infrastructure. Our ability to capture, store, and use all our available water depends on efficient systems capable of adapting to changing conditions. Some of the water management systems in our state date back to the mid-century or earlier and rely on outdated technology. We can’t afford to let a single drop go to waste.

Other opportunities for gains include updating our drinking water systems and researching ways to improve efficiency. In recent years, Idaho’s smaller communities gained access to grants that helped them replace aging water systems. In some cases, those systems date back to the community’s founding.

This year, our Agricultural Research and Extension Service through the University of Idaho wants to add an agricultural engineer specializing in irrigation. A desire to learn and understand how to do things better can pay big dividends for Idaho agriculture and our state. Every improvement we make strengthens the overall system while ensuring the sustainability of our farming and ranching heritage.

I encourage you to contact your legislators during the current session and share your support for Idaho’s water investments. As Idaho continues to grow, so does our responsibility to protect its resources. We have an obligation to future generations to make proactive investments now that address current needs and prepare for future change. If we continue with the hard work today, Idaho doesn’t need to fear the future when it comes to water.

This column originally appeared in the Post Register.