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Idaho Water Transactions Program

IWRB implemented the Idaho Water Transactions Program (IWTP) in 2003 as a Qualified Local Entity of the Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program (CBWTP).

The CBWTP and the IWTP assist in the conservation, restoration, and enhancement of sufficient aquatic and riparian habitats that can sustain viable anadromous fish populations while protecting private property rights and preserving the ranching lifestyle and economy of local Idaho communities.

For over twenty years, the CBWTP has supported the IWRB’s effort to form innovative, voluntary, and grassroots strategies that increase flows to streams and rivers in the Upper Salmon River Basin where lawful irrigation withdrawals are negatively impacting recovery efforts of Threatened salmon populations. The CBWTP is managed by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of fish and wildlife working in partnership with the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). The majority of funding for the IWTP is provided by BPA in cooperation with the Northwest Power and Conservation Council (NPCC).

In 2008, the State of Idaho signed the Idaho Fish Accord with BPA. This additional BPA funding provided $7.6 million over 10 years to secure water transactions in the Lemhi and Pahsimeroi River basins. In 2018, a 5-yr extension of the Accord was signed by the State of Idaho and BPA that secured additional transaction water funds in the Accord geography through 2022. In late-2022, a 3-yr extension of the Accord secured transaction funds through 2025 and expanded the Accord geography to the entire Upper Salmon River Basin.  

Additionally, IWRB has occasionally used Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund grants to implement water transactions in the Upper Salmon River Basin.

Since 2003, the IWRB has worked conjunctively with the Upper Salmon Basin Watershed Program technical team which consists of state, tribal, and federal resource managers and non-profit conservation organizations. The technical team reviews projects to ensure that transactions are developed on high priority stream reaches to have the largest impact on fish habitat and fish population metrics. Technical team partners coordinate peer-reviewed studies to monitor the effect of increased stream flow on recovery efforts for Threatened pacific salmon populations.

To-date, this multi-agency collaboration has led to improvements in juvenile salmon production, measured as egg-to-smolt survival from the Upper Salmon Basin to Lower Granite Dam near Lewiston. This collaboration has also observed measurable net benefits to the local agriculture community, measured as increased agriculture production (alfalfa or hay tons/ac) after flood-to-sprinkler irrigation conversions part of tributary reconnection projects. Moreover, the intersection of tributary reconnection projects and land easements secured by local land trusts are geared towards protecting both the local agriculture economy and salmon habitat from the risk of land use conversions. Lastly, irrigation water rights on marginal ground in high priority flow-limited stream reaches can be rented by the IWRB for instream flow utilizing the Idaho Water Supply Bank, thus allowing local agriculture producers to diversify revenue streams.   

20 years later, why the IWTP is still relevant:

The IWTP exists at the intersection of water resource management, pacific salmon recovery, and local agriculture communities. Long-term, recovery and de-listing of Threatened Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout in Idaho would put management of the resource back under State control. Implementation of approved restoration plans also adds some measure of a defense against a third-party “taking” lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act. It is in the local public interest to recover these species for natural resource, recreational, and economic interests to maintain the viability of Idaho’s agricultural communities.

II. Idaho Water Transactions, Now and in the Future View larger map

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