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North Idaho Set To Begin Negotiations Over Water Rights

Jessica Robinson
Northwest News Network

The state of Idaho is preparing to establish water rights in the northern part of the state. It's a relatively water-abundant area, not prone to the sort of conflicts that have erupted elsewhere like Oregon's Klamath Basin.

But the negotiations could have implications for flows across the border to Washington.

The process is meant to determine who has dibs on water flowing through the Coeur d'Alene River Basin. In drier parts of the West where there's not always enough water to go around, sorting out these claims can take years. In Idaho's heavily irrigated Snake River Basin, it's taken three decades.

But Helo Hancock, legislative director of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, hopes north Idaho's water won't be so contentious.

“We get enough rain -- it’s all dry-land farming,” Hancock said. “We live in some of the most fertile areas in the world.”

But Hancock said it’s highly likely the state of Washington will someday make demands on how much water flows out of north Idaho in the Spokane River. Idaho politicians want to stake their claims now.

The federal government made 353 water claims on behalf of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe -- many of those are aimed at maintaining Lake Coeur d'Alene at its current level.