Feb 25 2013
The Snake River Basin Adjudication isn’t the first general water rights adjudication in Idaho: There have been many, all smaller in scope than the SRBA but widely scattered around the Snake River Basin. One of the difficult issues in the SRBA for years has involved reconciling those earlier and more limited adjudications, which are generally not considered to be invalid, with the current one.
That came up in a subcase (65-23481) decided on February 27 by Judge Eric Wildman, bringing into play earlier adjudications in the Lemhi River and Payette River basins.
The specific case concerns a late claim to rights claimed by Allen Ranch LLP in the Payette River area, earlier reviewed by a special master.
In his description of the background, Wildman noted “The Special Master’s initial recommendation analyzed the late claim under two separate components: the stockwater claim; and the early and late period of use irrigation claim. The Special Master initially determined that the filing of the early and late period of use portion of the late claim was barred for failure of the claimant, Allen Ranch, LLP, to have the right adjudicated in the Payette Adjudication. The Special Master reasoned the Payette Adjudication decreed all rights to the Payette River established prior to October 19, 1977.
“As such, any rights established prior to that date but not adjudicated in the Payette Adjudication were deemed lost under principles of res judicata as well as the express language of the Payette Decree. Thereafter, the Claimant filed a Motion t0 Aller or Amend the Special Master’s Recommendation asserting this Court’s decision in Order Conditionally Granting Motion to File Late Notice of Claim; 0rder Requiring Filing of Amended Claim; Order Requesting Amended Director’s Report if Amended Claim is Filed, Subcases 74-15015 and 74-15861 (Jan 12, 2009). The Special Master followed the holding in Riggan and recommended that the claim be allowed to proceed based on law-of-the-case but recommended that the Court re-evaluate the holding in Riggan.”
The surprise in the case was the new decision’s ruling that the holding in the Riggan case was erroneous:
“Although, the Court’s ruling was not contested, it was in error in two respects. First, even if a “window” existed for the filing of a beneficial use claim, the claim would still have had to be confirmed in the final judgment, which it was not. … Similarly, in the instant case, the “window” is also irrelevant. The Payette Decree by its express language decreed all water rights established prior to October 19, 1977, and provided further that such rights having earlier priorities that were not claimed were deemed forfeited.”
Wildman said that he agreed with the special master’s legal reasoning, however, and because of that the claimant had not met the standard needed to support a late notice of claim.
He concluded, “this Court adopts the Amended Special Master ’s Report and Recommendation except for the part of the recommendation that the Claimant “be granted leave of court to file a beneficial use claim for the early and late irrigation season with a priority date no earlier than May 20, 1971, and no later than July l, 1971.” For the reasons previously explained, the Court rejects this part of the recommendation on the basis that the Claimant has failed to meet the “meritorious position” standard.”