TWIN FALLS • After spending 25 years processing thousands of Idaho water rights, there’s still one question on everyone’s mind.
Are we there yet?
The answer, surprisingly, is much sooner than you think.
Fifth District Judge Eric Wildman has been presiding over the Twin Falls-based Snake River Basin Adjudication court for the past two years. It’s a court dedicated to resolving water ownership, and it’s stayed busy settling thousands of water claims each year.
The court was charged to resolve more than 158,000 water claims dispersed throughout 44 different basins. Come this spring, the long journey could be over since the court only has 600 claims left, Wildman said.
“This is unprecedented,” Wildman said. “Other states in the West have been doing this much longer and are still not done.”
Here’s a break down of why this accomplishment matters for Idaho:
Why is this important?
The adjudication process began in order to provide water officials with a comprehensive record of state, federal and tribal water rights in the state. The record will serve as a registry to reflect water right ownership and entitlement. In some areas, the adjudication process showed some basins were fully appropriated, meaning, if someone wanted to come in and use water, he would have to purchase a water right. The claims process also helped set a dollar amount on the rights, providing water users with information on how much their right is worth in Idaho.
What are other states doing?
Other states across the west going through a water right adjudication process haven’t been as lucky. States like New Mexico or Montana have been resolving water disputes almost as early as the 1950s but they’re looking to Idaho as the ideal model.
What’s left for Idaho?
There are 600 water rights left to process. Wildman expects to process most of them this month and in January. However, once the claim goes through the court, the water right holder can decide to appeal the decision. This could delay the estimated completion date projected for spring 2013.
Does this mean all of Idaho’s water rights are now adjudicated?
No. The SRBA covers the majority of Idaho but not all of it. The court is currently working on processing water claims in northern Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Spokane River Basin Adjudication. The CSRBA has fewer water rights process. At the moment the court has about 13,000 but Wildman expects that number to go up once federal and tribal claims are submitted.
Once the final SRBA claim is processed, Wildman will issue a final unified decree that will include records of the rights that have been processed. However, he says Idaho is already experiencing the SRBA’s efforts.
“Already there’s a lot of certainty in the administrative facilitation of water rights,” he said. “That wasn’t always the case.”