Final SRBA Report Sent to Courtby Pat McCoy, Staff Writer
Capital Press, March 9, 2007
End seen to Snake water adjudication
Idaho's massive adjudication of the entire Snake River Basin is nearly over.
The Idaho Department of Water Resources sent its final director's report of water rights claims to the SRBA District Court in Twin Falls on Feb. 21, culminating nearly 20 years of investigating water rights claims.
More than 148,000 claims were reported to the court during the adjudication, reportedly the largest undertaking of its kind in the nation.
IDWR's success in reaching this milestone is shared by claimants, state and federal agencies, and the SRBA court. All cooperated, said David R. Tuthill, interim IDWR director and former adjudication bureau chief.
It will take the adjudication court time to issue what are termed partial decrees for the remaining claims and finalize the total decree for the entire case.
All data and documents are available on the Internet for public use, at www.idwr.idaho.gov. Click on online data and go to water rights and adjudication search. Court data on the case is available at www.srba.state.id.us. Persons can also call 208-287-4800 within the Boise area, or 800-451-4129, for assistance.
"When the court finishes the decree process, the SRBA will leave a legacy of cataloged water rights tied to computer maps," said Don Shaff, adjudication bureau chief. "This will enable the state to administer water rights and develop plans with confidence for the water resources in the entire basin."
To date, the SRBA has decreed 128, 544 partial water rights, designated as partial because they are only a part of the whole. The objection periods for the recently issued IDWR director's reports expire towards the end of 2007, said Eric Wildman, staff attorney for the SRBA court.
The majority of the remaining claims will work through the process to final resolution in two to three years, he said.
The SRBA officially began Nov. 19, 1987, when the Idaho Supreme Court issued a commencement order to start the massive water rights lawsuit, and designated the Fifth Judicial District Court in Twin Falls as the SRBA court.
It sprang from earlier roots. In the early 1980s, a group of ratepayers sued Idaho Power Co., alleging their power rates were too high because IPCo. was not properly protecting its water rights claims on the river, allowing irrigators to take water that should have gone to generate hydropower. The suit alleged IPCo. was forced to use more expensive coal-fired power generation plants to supply its customers.
In response, IPCo. sued hundreds of producers, who countersued to protect their irrigation water. Some of the legal wrangling was over whether IPCo. actually still held some water rights. Idaho water law, based on the prior appropriation doctrine, requires water rights holders to consumptively use all their water within a given period of time or lose whatever amount they don't use.
At this point, the Idaho Legislature intervened to prevent economic meltdown, approving legislation ordering the massive adjudication. That led to the Idaho Supreme Court's commencement order.
As the SRBA progressed, it resulted in water rights settlements and agreements with the Shoshone Bannock, Nez Perce and Shoshone Paiute tribes, dealt with federal claims for wild and scenic rivers, and other federal agency reservation claims.
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