TWIN FALLS • The end is near for processing thousands of Idaho water right claims. It’s just not here yet.
For several years, water officials have said the Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA) process is nearing completion, but a firm deadline has proven to be elusive.
District Judge Eric Wildman — who presides over the Twin Falls-based SRBA Court — estimated almost a year ago that the process would be done by this spring. That’s been pushed back about a year, said Paul Harrington, staff attorney at the court.
While most of the claims have been processed, he said, several water rights users appealed the court’s decisions to the Idaho Supreme Court.
Overall, Idaho water users are anxious to complete the process so they will have a comprehensive record of state, federal and tribal water rights. The resulting registry will reflect water right ownership and entitlement, and it will show where people would have to buy a water right because a basin was fully appropriated.
But securing an end date for the process depends on several variables, Harrington said. “You never know what’s going to be appealed. it usually takes longer for it to go to the Supreme Court. It’s possible that we may not be done next spring.“
Idaho officials created the SRBA as a result of a 1980s agreement involving Idaho Power’s water rights at Swan Falls. Since 1987, water officials have completed more than 100,000 water rights claims. Only about 100 remain unprocessed, said Carter Fritschle, adjudication section manager for the Idaho Department of Water Resources.
While the deadline has been delayed, Idaho’s work is still remarkable compared with surrounding Western states also trying to process water rights claims.
Arizona and Wyoming, for example, began their adjudication process before Idaho did, and they’re nowhere near completion, Fritschle said.
“We’re probably the only state in the union that has done anything like this,” he said.
The SRBA covers most of Idaho, but not the northern region. The state water department and the SRBA court are working on processing water claims in northern Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Spokane River Basin Adjudication.
“Our hope is that it won’t be as long term,” Fritschle said. “Our goal is that it’s wrapped up by 2017.”