Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Adjudication of water rights wrapping up

IDWR pledges to combat water theft in Blaine County

Express Staff Writer

The Snake River Basin Adjudication, a massive effort to settle water right claims in all but the most northern portion of the state, is wrapping up after nearly 20 years.

The final report of water right claims, which not coincidentally came from the Big Wood River Basin in Blaine County, was sent to the adjudication district court in Twin Falls on Feb. 21.

The purpose of the adjudication process is to authenticate all water rights in the state in order to eliminate any gray areas and resolve ongoing issues or disputes. Over 148,000 water right claims were sent to the court, including 2,199 from Basin 37, part 3, which is essentially the Wood River Valley.

According to Don Shaff, spokesman for the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR), which directed the adjudication process, Basin 37, part 3 was left for last because it is one of the most complex.

"It presented challenges," he said.

Basin 37, part 3 claimants have until Nov. 14 to file objections over the IDWR's recommendations.

"Are we anticipating any objections? I'd say so," Shaff said about Basin 37, part 3.

David Tuthill, IDWR's interim director, said "many water rights are recommended differently from the manner in which they are claimed."

"In some cases we recommend different acreages or flow rates," he added. "In other cases, we may recommend that certain water rights are no longer valid, and we recommend they be disallowed."

While the adjudication process may have created anxiety among some irrigators, it should ease headaches for the Basin 37 Water Master, Kevin Lakey, and his deputy, David Murphy, by clarifying who does and doesn't have legitimate rights to water.

Last summer, Murphy blew the whistle on homeowners in the Wood River Valley that he claimed were illegally diverting water from the river to fill manmade ponds and irrigate sweeping fields of blue grass.

Murphy said the pirating of water is widespread and flagrant but difficult to enforce without the help of the IDWR. Tuthill said the completion of the adjudication process will free up resources to enhance enforcement possibly as early as this summer. New technologies, including Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite observation recordings, will be utilized to help Murphy and Lakey.

"Now that we know where the water rights are, we can use remote sensing to see what lands are irrigated without water rights and enforce accordingly," Tuthill said. "It's important that people be forewarned of increased enforcement."

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