Wednesday, August 6, 2014

County postpones decision on irrigation district partition

Conflict pits large users against residential ones

Express Staff Writer

    It’s been more than a year since a petition to divide the Wood River Valley Irrigation District into two parts was presented to the county commissioners, yet a decision on the matter has been postponed for another month. Until then, the petition could go into mediation or be faced with a lawsuit seeking to stop it.
    District members opposed to the petition filed a nearly 2-inch-thick stack of papers with the commissioners Monday, one day before a hearing at the Blaine County annex building that was expected to produce a decision. The commissioners and County Attorney Tim Graves all said they had not had time to thoroughly read the documents.
    The petition is the result of a conflict between some of the district’s large agricultural landowners, who claim it is being poorly run, and its more numerous residential water users.  The petition seeks to create a new, 6,000-acre district out of the current 9,400-acre one.  It was enabled by a law passed by the Idaho Legislature in 2013 that allows partition when requested by the owners of a majority of land in the district.
    Attorney Tom Arkoosh, representing the petitioners, told the commissioners that the district’s board has left ditches in poor repair and did not deliver water on time early this spring. He said complaints by the agricultural water users have gone unanswered, and that in 2013, the Legislature stepped in to create “peace in the valley.”
    “What the Legislature decided to do, essentially, is that there should be a divorce,” he said.
    Board President Jim Super contended that the district has recently been delivering 30 to 40 percent more water than it had in the past, when it was run by agricultural users. Attorney Andy Waldera, representing the district, questioned how two districts, structured under one board of control, could better manage water delivery.
    “The board believes that it’s in everyone’s best interest to keep everyone together,” he said. “I don’t care if you’ve got one acre and a tree or 10,000 acres to irrigate, everyone wants efficient delivery of water.”
An attorney representing several people opposed to the partition contended that the law authorizing the petition violates a provision of the Idaho Constitution that prohibits local or “special” laws in certain cases.
    “We expect to pursue an injunction as soon as possible to stop these proceedings until a court can address the constitutionality of the law,” he said.
    However, Commissioner Larry Schoen, who is an agricultural irrigator in the district, suggested that the parties settle their dispute through mediation.
    “I’d like to see the issue mediated and resolved to the best interests of all involved,” he said.
    Barring successful mediation, the matter will be heard again by the commissioners on Sept. 2.

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