By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
The Canyon County Farm Bureau is calling on the city of Caldwell to drop its lawsuit against Pioneer Irrigation District to take the District's facilities and water rights through eminent domain.
The city filed the suit Nov. 26 to condemn and take over Pioneer's drains and water-delivery canals, water rights, and reservoir storage water.
Canyon County Farm Bureau's (CCFB) board of directors has unanimously voted to call on the city to abandon the lawsuit, said Roger Batt, CCFB executive director.
Member irrigators are concerned about the fate of their water rights and the farming community if a different entity, the city, were managing and operating the irrigation district, he said.
A takeover by the city also threatens water rights to all irrigators in Idaho, setting a precedent for other cities to do the same thing, he said.
CCFB recognizes there are two sides to the issue and has been told the city filed the suit in reaction to Pioneer's lawsuit against the city over municipal storm water drainage into Pioneer's system. Regardless of the storm water issue, CCFB would prefer the city to abandon its action to take over a 10,000-acre portion of Pioneer's system, he said.
"Pioneer has been meeting its obligation of delivering water for over 110 years. Now a municipality wants to take over that system. It doesn't make sense," he said.
He said Pioneer has done an outstanding job in managing irrigation water. Despite the city's claims, CCFB doesn't believe the city could ever deliver the same quality of service and affordability that water users currently receive.
To CCFB's understanding, a change in usage of storage water in Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs from irrigation to municipal/industrial would trigger actions that are potentially financially catastrophic for the Canyon County farming community, he said.
Pioneer Irrigation District President Alan Newbill said that change in usage could raise water rates dramatically and water rights would likely be diminished if the Bureau agreed to a contract with the city or even lost if the Bureau did not agree to a new contract.
Canyon County cannot afford to jeopardize water rights or efficient, affordable delivery, Batt said.
It's a small county, 17th in the state in land area, but it ranks fourth in agricultural cash receipts, which exceed $520 million annually. About 84 percent of the county, more than 322,000 acres, are in ag production and most of the state's 140 commodities are raised there under irrigation, he said.
CCFB trusts Pioneer to deliver that crucial water rather than a third party, he said.
"If it isn't broken, then let's not try to fix it until it is," he said.
Canyon County Farm Bureau is the largest county Farm Bureau in the state with 7,200 members, including 1,500 farm and ranch families.