Water law seminar tackles irrigation easement conflicts
Runoff from urban areas can damage, contaminate canals
By DAVE WILKINS
Protection of irrigation easements and rights-of-way will be the hot topic during a special workshop this month in Idaho.
The workshop is scheduled for the second day of the Idaho Water Users Association's summer water law seminar, which is June 21-22 in Sun Valley.
Encroachments onto irrigation easements and rights-of-way are a growing problem in Idaho.
Storm runoff from municipalities and highway districts can cause problems when it flows into nearby irrigation canals, water lawyers say. In most cases, irrigation systems aren't designed for the extra flows.
Urban storm water has also been shown to carry high levels of bacteria and petroleum from sources such as parking lots and gas stations, said Scott Campbell, an attorney for the Pioneer Irrigation District, which has been battling the city of Caldwell, Idaho, for more than two years over the issue.
"You can have flooding, collapsing of canal banks and contamination issues," Campbell said in an interview. "It's a recipe for a mess."
Irrigation districts and canal companies face millions of dollars in potential damages, he said. It's also costing irrigators, municipalities and highway districts some hefty legal fees.
"It's becoming more contentious because the stakes are so high," Campbell said.
The Pioneer Irrigation District filed a lawsuit against the city of Caldwell in January 2008, alleging that the city was discharging storm water into the district's canals from illegal drains.
The suit is still unresolved. Part of it has been sent up to the Idaho Supreme Court and is awaiting a briefing schedule.
Meanwhile, the city has filed its own lawsuit against the irrigation district.
Unauthorized buildings, bridges, landscaping, drain pipes and water lines are sometimes constructed along irrigation easements, water experts contend.
"Encroachment into irrigation easements and rights-of-way have developed into a really big issue in Idaho," Norm Semanko, executive director of IWUA, said in a press release. "This workshop will go a long ways towards helping the water user community deal with those problems."
Workshop panelists will include Boise Project Board of Control manager Paul Deveau, Aberdeen-Springfield Canal Co. general manager Steve Howser and Jerry Gregg, Snake River area manager for the Bureau of Reclamation.
Attorneys will discuss Idaho law regarding easements and rights-of-way, and experts from Oregon and Arizona will talk about what's going on in those states.
For more information about the water law seminar visit www.iwua.org
For more information about the dispute between the Pioneer Irrigation District and the city of Caldwell, visit www.pioneerirrigation.com