The granting of water reservations are relatively rare, a function largely of workload, said Wyn Menefee, chief of operations for the state Division of Mining, Land and Water. Menefee said he thought about 60 water reservations had been granted since Alaska became a state in 1959, and roughly half of those were approved in recent years due to additional funding and staffing.
The state has never granted a water reservation to an individual or group, and many of the applications from them haven't been vetted by agencies to know how they might fit with agency priorities, he said.
The bill, as proposed, would have the department return pending applications and application fees for individuals and groups no longer be allowed to reserve water. It would not refund money invested by groups in gathering data to support an application, a concern raised by critics. The commissioner could still refer those applications to other state agencies for review and consideration by those agencies of submitting similar applications.
The bill, as amended on the House side in HB77, has different transition language that would allow for the transfer of pending applications.
Ralph Andersen, president and CEO of the Bristol Bay Native Association, in a letter dated Monday, said the Alaska Native corporation had worked to secure more than $500,000 to support water reservation applications for member tribes and non-governmental groups. He labeled as "extremely troublesome" the section that would eliminate the ability of organizations to apply for reservations.
Supporters of the bill include the Resource Development Council and Council of Alaska Producers. Michael Satre, executive director of the Council of Alaska Producers, in a support letter that while the resource development industry is certain to be affected by the measure, "it is important to keep in mind that these provisions benefit everyone in Alaska, including cabin owners, aquatic farmers, home developers and any individual who seeks to do business on state land or water."
Follow Becky Bohrer on Twitter at http://twitter.com/beckybohrerap .