Editorial Roundup: Idaho | Idaho News | US News


Recent editorials from Idaho newspapers:

U.S. must not leave Afghan helpers behind

Political Cartoons

Despite a two-decade investment of blood and treasure by the United States, the Afghanistan government seems unprepared to prevent the Taliban from wreaking havoc.

The United States can’t fix that. It can make sure that the Afghans who believed in and trusted America enough to help it try are neither left behind nor left out.

Between 2004 and 2014, the U.S. admitted more than 48,600 Afghans through a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program in recognition of the risks taken by those who were willing to work with American soldiers and military contractors. Many who did the same thing are now desperately trying to get themselves and their families to safety as America rushes to end its military presence there and leave.

President Joe Biden promised that the U.S. would not turn its back on these Afghans as the Taliban tightens its grip. After too-long delays, 221 interpreters, drivers and others finally arrived on American soil last week. About 2,500 will do the same in coming days.

It’s a start, but not enough. The need for additional paperwork approvals may divert another 4,000 refugees to Qatar, Kuwait, Kazakhstan and Kosovo if diplomatic negotiations are successful.

TV images of American helicopters leaving desperate people behind on the roof of the Saigon embassy at the end of the Vietnam War are burned into the memories of those old enough to have watched. An Afghan version of this horror should not be repeated.

The government should sort out paperwork and address security risks later. The thousands of helpers who have applied for SIVs have to be airlifted to Guam or American bases before it is too late to cover their retreat.

Those who make it to America won’t find it an easy transition. This is a different culture. Family members left behind will often be in danger. Speaking their own language, even to their children, will too often prompt discomfort when someone thoughtlessly growls, “Speak English.”

The Olympic Games have provided an example of why we should be aggressive in helping those who helped us. Last week, Sunisa Lee won the all-around gold medal in gymnastics. Lee is Hmong-American.

The Laotian Hmong helped Americans in that long-ago Southeast Asian war. Like Afghans now, they came as refugees to live in peace and give their children a future. The result is an exceptional athlete and a fine young citizen.

The United States must not abandon any of its Afghan helpers. This nation’s honor is at stake. So is its future.

Online: Idaho Mountain Express

Public schools already facing stiff tests

Thanks to a resurgence of COVID-19 in the community, the 2021-22 public school year might not look as normal as everyone wishes it would.

Listening to Gov. Brad Little on Tuesday, the ghosts of mandated masks and remote learning could be let loose if as a state we don’t do better with vaccines.

The timing could hardly be worse. Not only are people tired of all things pandemic, but tensions based more on politics than health science are near the breaking point.

And public schools are on the front lines of impending battle.

Hours after Gov. Little’s press conference, the Coeur d’Alene School Board met. While masks weren’t on the agenda, a significant sized crowd showed up — most of them angry and threatening, based on those who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Cool heads can prevail. One recent transplant expressed in a letter to the editor Wednesday how shocked he was while attending the school board’s July 12 meeting. He observed a chasm between the school board and outspoken patrons at that meeting and urged all to “come together and shape our children’s public education as a community.”

We’ve got a ways to go to make that happen. Allegations of critical race theory being taught still ring out despite administrators’ assertions that it’s not part of the curriculum anywhere in the district. CRT innuendo sails on a strong tailwind from Boise, where Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin and Rep. Priscilla Giddings are carrying out their public school indoctrination inquisition.

We live in a time of flourishing conspiracy theories hatched in politically motivated incubators, disseminated by social media and consumed by people hungry to have their viewpoints applauded, not challenged. That is a poor recipe for coming together and shaping our children’s public education as a community.

Fall classes begin in a month. School board elections are less than 12 weeks away. It’s not too early to consider what each of us can do to ensure the best educational experience for our students, and it’s not too late to figure out how we can come together rather than rip each other apart.

Online: Coeur d’Alene Press

Growth + climate change = pending water crisis in Idaho. Let’s sound the alarm now

Most farmers and longtime residents of Idaho will tell you: We go through good water years, we go through dry years.

They’ll often be able to tick off those dry years and recount how we bounced back, eventually recovering from the drought.

Idaho has had a few good water years, but we hit a drought this year.

A relatively dry fall in 2020 set the stage, and then there was a below-normal snowpack over the winter, followed by a dry spring. All of that formed Idaho’s current drought conditions.

We’ll get through this year, for sure.

But what if this is our new normal? What if the dry years start to outnumber our good water years?

Jeff Raybould and Brian Patton aren’t ready to sound the alarm just yet.

The Idaho Statesman editorial board met with Raybould, chairman of the Idaho Water Resource Board, and Patton, executive officer of the board, which is charged with planning for Idaho’s water future.

“I don’t think we’re at the point yet where we ought to be panicking,” Raybould said. “I think we have everything in place, the mechanisms are there to make sure that the water gets spread out to where it’s supposed to go, in the priority that is supposed to get there.”

Both he and Patton stressed that one year doesn’t make a trend, and they point out that we’ve been through dry years before.

But some of us believe that what we’re seeing now is the harbinger of climate change and that we’d better plan for its impacts.

As we saw this year, 23,000 acres of planted, irrigated farmland were nearly lost when the water started to run out and wells were ordered shut off on June 27.

It’s a small chunk of the 3.3 million acres of Idaho’s irrigated farmland, but it doesn’t take much imagination to see the impacts that drought could have across Idaho, a state that’s still heavily reliant on agriculture for much of its economy.

The Idaho Water Resource Board recently adopted a list of about 20 major water projects needed statewide to improve water supply resiliency and sustainability, including replacing aging water infrastructure, expanding aquifer recharge infrastructure and expanding snowpack cloud-seeding operations to enhance water supply. All told, the projects would cost an estimated $843 million and rely on federal COVID-19 relief money.

These are good projects and certainly will help — if they happen.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, a rancher, on Thursday threw his support behind these projects.

“Our focus must be on securing supply for Idaho’s growing population, particularly in light of our recent drought conditions,” Bedke wrote in a statement. “With that in mind, in partnership with our friends on the Idaho Water Resource Board, I am developing a plan to use federal ARPA dollars to increase our state aquifer recharge capability. Increased aquifer storage will then be available to address the growing demand of the hundreds of communities that rely on groundwater to support their population, creating a responsible and sustainable response to the demands of Idaho’s continuing growth.”

Our concern is that these projects might be too little and come too late, especially if climate change and its impacts are accelerating.

Take, for example, one project on the list: enlarging Anderson Ranch Reservoir by raising the height of the dam by 6 feet.

It’s taken nearly 20 years of planning to make it happen — and it still hasn’t happened.

Patton suggested the possibility of raising Lucky Peak or Arrowrock at some point to increase water storage, but “this raise at Anderson Ranch is the first time we’ve gotten congressional authorization and federal funding for a significant new water storage project in the state of Idaho in 50 years. So these opportunities don’t come along every day, so I am not sure when the next one will come along, but we’ll be pushing for it.”

By then, though, it may be too late.

Further, while additional storage at Anderson Ranch is great, it would add only 29,000 acre-feet of water.

To put that in context, three dams on the Boise River — Anderson Ranch, Arrowrock and Lucky Peak — hold about a million acre-feet of water.

And it wouldn’t be nearly enough to meet the projected future demand.

A 2016 water study commissioned by the Idaho Water Resource Board and the Idaho Department of Water Resources concluded that the demand in the Treasure Valley alone for domestic, commercial, municipal and industrial water could increase from 110,000 acre-feet per year in 2015 to between 219,000 and 298,000 acre-feet per year by the year 2065. That means finding an additional 109,000 to 188,000 acre-feet of water per year.

Let’s be clear: That’s assuming the water is even available.

If we have consecutive low-water years, we could have water storage capacity ’til the cows come home, but it won’t do a lick of good if we can’t fill the reservoirs to begin with.

We appreciate and respect the efforts that the water board members are making to address supply, and we recognize that’s a huge challenge. There’s only so much they can do.

“I think building a brand-new major reservoir is going to be a really tough lift in the current environment,” Patton conceded.

While some river irrigation systems have storage capacity for eight years, the Boise River and Upper Snake River systems are built to provide a one-year supply. That limits how far in advance we can take action. We collect what we collect, then slowly release what we have over the course of an irrigation season. When we’re out of water, we’re out of water.


That’s why more emphasis needs to be placed on conservation.

As it is, most of us are going about our business as usual, watering our lawns, tending our gardens. Farmers are soaking their crops with pivots and using as much water as they’re allotted at the beginning of the season.

During the current heat wave, the average household in Boise is using nearly 15% more water than normal, according to data from Suez Water Idaho, the largest provider in the city. Suez customers used 159.4 million gallons of water in June and July, much more than the nearly 140 million gallons used during the same period in 2019.

This comes as we’re in the middle of record-setting temperatures and dry conditions that show no sign of letting up.

As climate change continues to exact its toll, water will become scarcer, and we’ll be forced to mandate water conservation measures.

Better to start taking action on those measures now.

We need to rethink our love for lawns in the Treasure Valley and consider xeriscaping.

Even though Boise is the City of Trees, we need to remember that we live in a desert. Idaho is part of the Great Basin Desert, which is the largest of four deserts in North America. And like all deserts, it doesn’t get much moisture.

Recognizing that agriculture uses about 80% of our water supply, farmers need to look at their practices and conserve where they can.

Water conservation measures now would help to build up a reserve for the following year, if indeed we do have a dry fall, low snowpack and dry spring. Coupled with solutions for alternatives to flood control, which the board is working on, this would help mitigate short irrigation seasons in at least the following year.

We’re not convinced that Idaho is prepared for the effects of climate change on our water supply, and we’re not convinced that state officials are taking it seriously enough to sound the alarm.

We sure hope they’re correct, and that this is just part of the normal ebb and flow of water supply in Idaho.

But if this is our new normal in the West, we’re going to be in a world of hurt, unprepared on solving our water woes.

We’d rather be alarmists than be left high and dry.

Giddings won ethics fight — in spite of herself

Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, walked away the winner on Tuesday in her brush with the House Ethics Committee — in spite of her own laziness, incompetence, surliness and just plain bad faith.

Giddings doxed former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger’s accuser in the sexual abuse case that led to his recommended censure and ultimate resignation last spring. Tuesday, the committee deemed her to be guilty of “conduct unbecoming a representative which is detrimental to the integrity of the House as a legislative body.” But she’s not going to lose much sleep over the recommended sanction — censure and losing her seat on the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee.

Giddings won’t be suspended — even for one day. She won’t be stripped of her major committee assignments, notably the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, where she remains free to sabotage education budgets on behalf of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Getting booted off a minor afternoon committee assignment will give Giddings more free time to campaign for lieutenant governor.

None of the facts were in dispute here. Two dozen House members — Republicans and Democrats — issued a formal complaint about Giddings recklessly republishing a Redoubt News article with the name and face of von Ehlinger’s accuser on social media and then lying about it while testifying at the Lewiston Republican’s ethics hearing.

But at every turn, she compounded her errors.

Committee members repeatedly urged her to meet with them privately. She stonewalled.

Time and again, she rebuffed any suggestion that she apologize.

Into the hearing, she brought no lawyer — although she raised funds to hire one.

On Monday, she stormed out of the committee’s meeting room after issuing a bombastic 1,800-word opening statement.

She refused to engage with House members who signed the complaint against her and then testified on Monday.

She promised two lines of defense: Von Ehlinger’s attorneys released the victim’s name. Had that not happened, there would have been no way for Redoubt News or anyone else to reprint the expose. And because Idaho politicians police themselves — only a fellow legislator can bring an ethics complaint against another — the system is far too subjective.

But Giddings called not one witness on her behalf — even though she went through the motions of naming them and asking that the committee go to the trouble of preparing last-minute subpoenas.

All she brought was snarkiness, arrogance, a bad temper, evasiveness and the flimsiest of arguments. How could she be guilty, Giddings suggested, when von Ehlinger has yet to be formally charged with a crime? No crime means no criminal victim. And besides, the U.S. Air Force Academy graduate maintained, the young woman was no legislative intern or employee, merely a volunteer.

Consternation among the Ethics Committee members was palatable:

– Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise — “You know, I don’t see where I really have a choice but to find that what was done was wrong because I don’t have any evidence to the contrary.”

– Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls — “She was elusive and evasive in her responses in the previous hearings. … What does concern me is that I saw that pattern repeated yesterday.”

– Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City — “If she had owned her actions and apologized, it’s entirely conceivable that the complaints could have been dismissed.”

– Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa. — “When a legislator repeatedly tells half-truths, outright lies, fails to answer questions or be honest with the committee, this type of behavior will not be tolerated.”

– Chairman Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay — “Being less than truthful during a public hearing while under oath abridges the trust of both the public and fellow members of the House of Representatives and can justly be construed as conduct unbecoming and detrimental to the House of Representatives.”

Such eloquence will be forgotten the minute Giddings and her base expose this feeble verdict on their way toward putting her one heartbeat away from the governor’s desk.

A new standard has been set. In the Idaho House, exposing the victim of sexual abuse to ridicule is now conduct becoming of an Idaho legislator — provided she doesn’t want to serve on the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee.

Online: The Lewiston Tribune

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