It seems like a no-brainer that a senior right to store water would carry with it a right to actually use the water.
Irrigators in Idaho’s Treasure Valley are finding that isn’t necessarily so.
It’s a complicated situation.
As reservoirs fill in the spring, water is alloted to water right holders on the basis of the seniority of their claim. As those senior rights are satisfied, those of junior holders are filled.
As a matter of practice in years of abundant snow, water is released from reservoirs as a flood control measure.
Irrigators on the Boise River system have a 61-year-old agreement with the federal Bureau of Reclamation that provides that water released for flood control isn’t counted against storage rights. As natural flows refill the reservoir, the rights are again satisfied on the basis of seniority.
That makes sense. If the release is counted against the right, growers might not have water available when it’s needed for their crops.
But the adjudication of 150,000 claims in Idaho’s Snake River Basin has called the practice into question.
Idaho’s attorney general and the Idaho Department of Water Resources say when water is released for flood control, it is counted as if it had been stored and used.
While that may satisfy the letter of Idaho law, it flies in the face of common sense.
A storage right is of no value if it doesn’t carry with it the right to actually use the water for its intended purpose.
The issue is before the Idaho Supreme Court, and legislators are considering bills to address the problem.
We hope they side with the interest of irrigators, and maintain practices that have worked for decades.