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City seeks takeover of irrigation canals

Fight hinges on Caldwell's stormwater runoff


Capital Press

A hearing will likely be set within 30 days on an effort by the City of Caldwell, Idaho, to take by eminent domain a portion of an irrigation district, the district's lawyer says.

Caldwell is using its powers of eminent domain to condemn a 10,000-acre portion of Pioneer Irrigation District, court documents show.

The lawsuit follows years of legal wrangling between the city and the district over stormwater runoff and other issues affecting the quality of irrigation water. Both sides have spent an estimated $4 million on the litigation.

The city filed a complaint Nov. 26 for condemnation of Pioneer's drains and water-delivery canals, water rights and reservoir storage water.

The city's lawsuit threatens several irrigation entities downstream of Pioneer and federal water rights the district holds through Bureau of Reclamation reservoirs, said Pioneer's attorney, Scott Campbell.

"Water rights with the federal government could be significantly diminished, and it would subject citizens to increased rates for that water," he said.

A transfer of rights for storage water in Arrowrock, Anderson Ranch and Lucky Peak reservoirs would necessitate new contracts between the city and the Bureau of Reclamation. If the Bureau agrees, the water rate is likely to be based on municipal and industrial use, which is as much as 4,200 percent higher than the current rate, Campbell said.

Pioneer's rate for water from Anderson Ranch reservoir is 59 cents an acre-foot. The rate for municipal and industrial water is $25.44 an acre-foot, Pioneer officials said in a letter to district patrons.

The eminent domain lawsuit is the city's attempt to circumvent Pioneer's 2008 lawsuit against the city over what Pioneer claims are unauthorized discharges of municipal stormwater into Pioneer's system, Campbell said.

A June trial is set for that lawsuit, and Pioneer filed a motion to dismiss the city's complaint for condemnation on Jan. 2, he said.

The city's attorney, Mark Hilty, said the condemnation was a last resort for the city.

The city tried for years to resolve the issue by getting Pioneer to transfer the ditches and drains to the city, which can do a better job of stormwater management, but Pioneer has refused to discuss it, he said.

"Litigation has been long, ongoing and expensive, and the city was looking for a way out," he said.

The city is seeking the takings, in part, to meet its drainage needs, to expand the infrastructure as needed in the future and to control the system as part of urban planning, according to court documents.

The legal battles stem from the city's 2006 adoption of a new municipal stormwater management manual.

That policy permitted developers to install pipes that discharged stormwater into Pioneer's irrigation ditches without its permission, according to court documents.

Pioneer had worked with the city to find a resolution for two years before filing its lawsuit and has continued to seek resolution of the drainage issue, Campbell said.

The city's dumping of stormwater raises issues of flooding and pollution and interferes with Pioneer's maintenance of its system, he said.




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