Water Call in Idaho

by admin on August 28, 2009

Idaho law distributes water rights on a first-come, first-served basis, and Clear Springs Foods has older water rights than the groundwater pumpers.

from the Capital Press Agriculure News, August 23, 2009

In Idaho, about 150 users of irrigation water, covering about 4,000 acres, have been ordered by a court to stop pumping groundwater. This came as a result of a “water call” or claim to more senior rights by a fish farm called Clear Springs Foods. Clear Springs claimed that as a result of groundwater withdrawals by more junior water rights holders the flow from the springs which provide its name had dropped to levels inadequate to maintain operations.

This is an intriguing case because it brings out many aspects of the way water law works in the western states. Idaho is an appropriation state, and these prior water rights normally only apply to surface water. In this case however, the groundwater pumping was connected to the flow of the surface springs to such a degree that Clear Springs could effectively make a case with the state water adjudicator. He ruled in favor of Clear Springs, and in March of this year the irrigators were ordered to cease pumping. A flurry of legal actions attempted to stay the order, leading to a ruling this past Monday, August 24 temporarily delaying the shutoff to allow further negotiations.

I will be following this case closely for the precedents it may set.

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