The Idaho Supreme Court on January 5 affirmed the judgment of the district court in an appeal from the decision of the district court in the Snake River Basin Adjudication on water rights for the city of Pocatello.
The Supreme Court held (a) that Pocatello cannot use its wells as alternate points of diversion for its surface water rights; (b) that it can use its interconnected wells as alternate points of diversion for all of the associated water rights on
the condition that doing so will not change the priority date and quantity of water that can be pumped from each well; (c) that one groundwater right was properly classified as for an
irrigation purpose; and (d) that Pocatello failed to establish earlier priority dates for two of its groundwater rights.
The SRBA case came out of filings by the city of Pocatello.
The Supreme Court noted in background, “In April 1990, the City of Pocatello filed its water right claims, and it later filed amended claims. Pursuant to its statutory duties, IDWR filed Director’s Reports with respect to Pocatello’s claims. The disputed matters were tried to a hearing officer, and Pocatello then challenged several of the hearing officer’s findings of fact and conclusions of law in the district court. The court entered a judgment affirming the hearing officer’s recommendations, and Pocatello filed a motion to correct or amend the judgment. After that motion was denied, it timely appealed.
“Water for Pocatello’s in-town service area is pumped into an interconnected distribution system from twenty-two wells supplied by twenty-one groundwater rights. The wells were developed at different times and are located throughout the in-town service area. Because the interconnected water distribution system was in operation prior to November 19, 1987, Pocatello contended, pursuant to Idaho Code section 42-1425, that each of these wells had become an alternate point of diversion for each of the twenty-one water rights, which would permit it to withdraw water under its most senior groundwater rights from any well. IDWR recommended that each well in the system could serve as an alternate point of diversion for each of the twenty-one water rights if the water rights were subject to a condition stating, “To the extent necessary for administration between points of diversion for ground water, and between points of diversion for ground water and hydraulically connected surface sources, ground water was first diverted under this right from Pocatello well [description] in the amount of __ cfs.” IDWR did not recommend that condition for three of Pocatello’s groundwater rights that supplied water to the in-town system (29-2274, 29-2338, and 29-7375) because those rights were subject to administrative transfer No. 5452, which did not include the condition and occurred after 1987. Pocatello also had a separate water delivery system to provide water to its airport.”
Those claims came with disputes. The Supreme Court noted that “Pocatello contended that each of the wells in its two interconnected water distribution systems had become an alternate point of diversion for all water rights associated with that system.” The SRBA Court said that had to be limited – it attached a condition to that effect.
The Supreme Court agreed with the lower court: “If Pocatello could have each well be an alternate point of diversion for each water right without the attached condition, as stated by IDWR in its supplemental Director’s Report, “the City would be allowed to withdraw water under its most senior priority water right from any well location.” Recognizing the transfers without the attached condition would injure junior water rights holders by diminishing their priorities. The district court did not err in upholding the attached condition.”
Also, “On appeal, Pocatello argues that IDWR committed an error in law by issuing the license for the use requested by the city. Idaho Code section 42-108 states, “Any person desiring to make such change of point of diversion, place of use, period of use, or nature of use of water shall make application for change with the department of water resources under the provisions of section 42-222, Idaho Code.” Section 17(b)(3) of Administrative Order No. 1 adopted by the SRBA court states, “Claimants seeking a change in their claimed water right under I.C. § 42-222 shall contact IDWR.” That is what Pocatello must do to change the purpose of water right 29-7770. The district court did not err in so holding.”