Wednesday, July 4, 2007

State robs small water rights

I wonder how many of you will lose all or some of your water rights within the next few years.

Doing research for friends on the status of their water rights, time and time again I stumble across reduced amounts recommended by the Idaho Department of Water Resources for surface and groundwater rights whether decreed, licensed or permitted.

For example, my friend has two decreed 1.5-cubic-feet-per-second surface water rights with a priority date of 1886. (FYI: one miner's inch equals 0.02 cubic feet per second.) These rights have been in his family's ownership for decades. However, IDWR has recommended that one be reduced to 0.84 cfs and the other be reduced to 0.30 cfs. This recommendation leaves them with 38 percent of their entire right. Unless they file an objection in court before November, a judge will declare as law IDWR's recommendation, and his family will lose 62 percent of their water rights.

Just like that.

And know this: IDWR only makes recommendations on rights that have been claimed. Have your water rights been formally claimed? If not, you stand to lose your entire right.

Sadly, at the same time these smaller rights are being reduced, I see no official recommendations for many of the larger rights, though they have been claimed. Frankly, the owners of many of these larger rights are often represented by attorneys who are negotiating for increased amounts of water for their clients than are currently owned. "But there is no extra water to be appropriated," you say? Think again. That extra water will be appropriated in the 62 percent my friend's family could lose. In the 50 percent another friend might lose. In the 46 percent another friend may lose. Will it be appropriated from you, too?

You may think your small pump in the canal taking only 0.05 cfs is a drop in the bucket. It's never been metered, and no one will bother with it now. But that's not true. With the new decrees, licenses and permits, IDWR's monitoring will begin at ground zero. The last time there was a ground zero in Blaine County was with the Frost Decree of 1909. Almost all existing surface water rights can be traced back to that decree. (And some that are claimed today cannot be. Strange as it may seem, they have appeared out of thin air¾or on thin paper. But that is another story.) A meter will, at some point, be placed at your point of diversion¾assuming you still have one.

I do not own a water right. I don't own property in Blaine County. But I care enough about this place and the hard-working people who make it so wonderful to educate myself about the lifeblood of this community¾water. I know, for instance, that the developers of some proposed subdivisions claim they have enough water with their existing rights to adequately serve the new subdivisions. But remember: Each new parcel created also will have the right to claim and sink a domestic well to take 13,000 gallons of water per day from the aquifer for household use and to irrigate up to a half acre. (FYI: 1 cfs equals 26,930 gallons per hour.) How is your water today? The Big Wood is flowing at 1,000 cfs below average for this time of year. A friend in Indian Creek had automatic exfoliating showers last summer from the sediment in her well water. Luxurious? I think not.

If you have not been taking this issue seriously, you need to pull your head out of the sand and do it now. You could lose all or part of your water right by doing nothing. So get up now and call IDWR at (208) 736-3033 or go online to Find out the status of your water right and act now to keep it. Ask questions. Talk to your friends, your neighbors, your canal district, your water district or an attorney if you have to. But act now. Time is running out.

Finally, when you speak with someone at IDWR, tell them they need to expend more resources supporting our watermasters and their deputies and staff in their enforcement of water rights and prosecution of water thieves. A lot of the water they're taking from people through this process could probably be found if those who steal water are found out and stopped.

I've learned a few rules about water in the West:

· Water's for fightin'. Whiskey's for drinkin'.

· Water flows uphill toward money and power.

· Water thieves accomplish their dirty work in the fields and in court.

Carrie Norton


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