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Lawmakers eye emergency water rights for cleaning up spills

Posted at 11:41 AM, Jan 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-14 13:41:59-05

BOISE — Emergency crews pulling contaminated water from rivers after such things as tanker trunk crashes is standard cleanup practice in Idaho.

But removing that water could be violating the state’s strict water-rights laws where water distribution is closely monitored.

So lawmakers on Monday voted to hold a hearing on legislation granting an emergency water right when crews are trying to clean up spills in waterways.

Idaho Department of Environmental Quality Director John Tippets said the agency will always work quickly to remove contaminated water.

But he said the legislation is needed to prevent someone from coming in and saying their water right is being violated due to the emergency cleanup.

Tippets noted that crews swung into action Jan. 1 after a BNSF Railway locomotive derailed in northern Idaho and spilled diesel fuel into the Kootenai River.