Scott Reed

Water Warrior

Recorded: July 31, 2013

In this Skype interview between Huey Johnson and environmental attorney, Scott Reed from Coeur d'Alene Idaho, they discuss an urgent land conservation project that brought them together when Huey was the Western Regional Director of the Nature Conservancy. Scott and Huey also talk about adjudication of the Snake River, a process that went on for 20 years. The state later decided to adjudicate water in north Idaho as well. Scott is well known for his work in water resources and especially for establishing minimum flows for fish in north Idaho.

Scott Reed is a special kind of attorney, civil and respectful on either side of the table. He was educated at Princeton and Stanford and has been recognized by his peers from the Idaho State Bar with the Distinguished Lawyer Award. Early in his career after graduating from Stanford, Scott began a practice in water law because he loved the outdoors so much. He later moved to Coeur d’Alene Idaho where he set up a practice in environmental and land use law and has worked on water adjudication in Idaho.

Scott has been a civic pillar in the town of Coeur d’Alene and has served on numerous boards, including the Board of Trustees of North Idaho College, the Coeur d’Alene Planning Commission, the Idaho Water Resources Board, the National Audubon Society, the North Dakota Wetlands Trust, the Idaho Nature Conservancy, the Coeur d’Alene Library Board, the Western Environmental Law Center, and the Idaho Legal History Society.

The effort to preserve and protect the historic Tubbs Hills area of Coeur d’Alene was successful and became a large park located within walking distance to Coeur d’Alene. Scott wrote a book about it called “The Treasure Called Tubbs Hill.

Mr. Reed has received numerous awards and recognition for his work, including the American Motors Corporation Conservation Award, Rocky Mountain Center on Environment Award, He also shares several awards with his wife, Mary Lou, including Conservationist of the Year (1971) (1984) and in the Idaho Rivers United Idaho Legacy Award in 2010.

Huey Johnson:  Scott first came to my attention when he appealed to Washington to the then organization I worked for that they desperately needed to have a piece of land saved that day if possible. It was going to be developed by – scraped up by bulldozers and ruin  the wilderness if it wasn’t. And he was so appealing I found myself on an airplane going from Washington out there to work on it. His work, pioneering work for that matter on water policy in the state of Idaho is remarkable too. He particularly worked on instream flow and other issues and was progressive well beyond others in other places during this era.


Huey Johnson:   Scott Reed, a wonderful friend who has carried on in splendid isolation of northern Idaho’s panhandle on environmental ethics as an attorney for many years. So Scott, from a state where there are three false water claims for every honest one, good morning.

Scott Reed:   Good morning.

Huey Johnson:  In your work with water, I was surprised in conversation with you some years ago, you described how there was adjudication going on, on the Snake River at that time. Adjudication is kind of the legal process of proving ownership of a water claim and I believe the Snake River, there was a judge who was assigned to do this, or judges, and they would take a mile or 5 miles and let everybody know in the newspaper that you had to turn in your claims or they wouldn’t exist anymore. Is that right as a definition?

Scott Reed:  That’s correct.

Huey Johnson:   Yeah, so they got just a little ways down the river and the river was dry because of all the claims.

Scott Reed:   Yeah, the adjudication went on for 20 years. The intriguing thing, Huey, is that about 3 or 4 years ago, why the water board decided, well, we should do it up in North Idaho. So they announced they were going to have an adjudication and people up here got upset because the damn state was going to interfere with our water, what do we have to go through that process for? And I spent some time and with others, but more of it trying to explain that really this protects your water, it doesn’t take it away from you. Part of what we managed to do when we were on the water board and revised the plan, we managed to set up the possibility for instream flow adjudication then and protecting free flowing water that was already used for other purposes. So it started off in great controversy but ended up pretty well, and I think they’re now probably well in excess of 100 or 200 claims of the public–the Fish and Game or something like that, of water.

Scott Reed:  We came up with the idea that why don’t we establish minimum flows in the rivers up in north Idaho? And the Director of Water Administration, R. Keith Higginson said “I can’t imagine how you could really be out of water up there,” but, he said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen in 50 years, go ahead.” They ended up not getting it through the legislature but getting it through actual claims made by the water board on every stream that’s north of the Salmon River as it flows into Washington. There’s a minimum flow established.

 Huey Johnson: Well the fact that you established required flow in the Salmon as it goes into the Snake, is that it?

 Scott Reed: Yeah, the Salmon and the varieties of the Columbia, all the tributaries up there, the Spokane River, the Priest River.

 Huey Johnson:   Those rivers are large and beautiful and historic to any observer of this in the future, so this wasn’t a light undertaking to accomplish that. I remember meeting you on a wonderful day when I believe you called the Nature Conservancy and you had a big land problem, and I ended up going up there. The Nature Conservancy had not at that time to my knowledge been acquiring any land for government, or certainly federal government. And as I recall, this was on the thoroughfare between your community and a lovely lake called Upper Priest Lake to the north.

Scott Reed:   A private developer was going to cut the whole thing up. And in those days, R. had good connections but it was an instant call to [Senator] Frank Church to do something or other and the next call was to Huey Johnson to help us do something, and we ended up with a rather astonishing, quick effort.

Huey Johnson:   And we were lucky enough to stir up the money and get it tied down and get it saved.

Scott Reed:    Well, Nature Conservancy was a big part of that.

Huey Johnson:    That started a whole new direction.  The Upper Priest Lake thing became a major policy theme for the Conservancy and the growth direction it’s sustained ever since, I guess.

 Scott Reed:    You never do things alone.

 Huey Johnson:    No, that’s…-

 Scott Reed:    It wasn’t me or you who did this thing, it was all of us.  We got a lot of help and a whole lot of people. It was nice when we had a Frank Church. We don’t have one anymore and it’s too bad, but the country is still a pretty country.