It may not be the most popular choice, but it appears the site of the failed Teton Dam may be the most economically feasible site for additional water storage in the Upper Snake River Valley, says a member of a legislative study committee.
"Teton is the only one that has any economic potential, and I'm not sure it's publicly feasible," said state Rep. Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley.The Legislative Ad Hoc Committee on Water Storage Siting met last month at Rexburg to discuss rebuilding Teton Dam near Newdale.
The dam failed as the reservoir was being filled for the first time in 1976, killing 11 people and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage.
A continuing need for flood control, irrigation water and hydroelectric power has legislators considering rebuilding the dam.
Most of the witnesses appearing before the committee said they thought people directly affected by the 1976 disaster now favor reconstruction.
Kenneth Petty, a four-year Rexburg resident who researched the dam's collapse, said he opposes rebuilding the dam at the same site because of the soil conditions and rock formations that contributed to its collapse.
Reed Oldham of Rexburg, a long-time member of the Committee of Nine, which governs Upper Snake River Valley irrigation concerns, said he thought there is support for the dam. Dave Rasmussen of Rexburg, a building contractor, estimated that 75 to 80 percent of the people would support the project.
"The major consensus seems to be they would like it rebuilt if it can be done safely," Rasmussen said.
The legislative committee's purpose is not to decide whether the Teton Dam should be rebuilt, said committee chairman Rep. Dean Haagenson, R-Coeur d'Alene. The committee was appointed to look at water storage and possible storage sites in the state because of two years of drought.
It will make recommendations to the Legislature when it convenes in January.
The Idaho House approved purchase of land for the Lynn Crandall dam, on the Snake River below Palisades Reservoir, several years ago, but it was rejected by the Senate. The committee was asked to take a new look at the site.
The Crandall reservoir would inundate most of the valley upstream to Palisades, including the town of Swan Valley, said Max Van Der Berg, Minidoka Project supervisor for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The state would have to acquire land for the Crandall project, but the Bureau still has title to all the land needed for the Teton Dam, he said.
Ongoing negotiations with the Sho-Ban Indian tribes will have a bearing on whether the Teton Dam is rebuilt, Haagenson said. The state is negotiating with the tribes over federal reserve water rights.
Tribal negotiators have talked about the dam as a way of providing the water they have coming to them, he said.
Rep. Stan Hawkins, R-Bone, said the people will be less likely to support the Teton Dam project if the benefits - the power and water - go outside the area.
"The public is going to be against it if you can't show some direct benefits," Hawkins said.