The November 20 SRBA Court decision on a water right claim didn’t reach the interesting question of whether the adjudication could set a water right decree in a case in which there was no water.
That claim was filed by the Idaho Water Resources Board, seeking zero cubic feet per second in Snake River flow at the Milner Dam. The flow at that point ordinarily is siphoned off completely by water users, and replenished below the Milner.
The claim was objected to by Idaho Power Company, which said both that the claim should not exist as requested, and that the state had not followed proper procedures in requesting it.
Other parties also objected, including the Idaho Water Users Association and a number of water districts.
A decision by a special master in the case held inn favor of the state board. An oral argument was held in October.
In reversing a decision by one of the adjudication’s special masters, it did disallow a water right with prejudice.
SRBA Judge Eric Wildman said that, first, the state did not provide for a zero-water right “when it adopted the 1976 State Water Plan as a matter of law.”
The plan does provide for a protected flow of 0 cfs at Milner Dam gsging station, and “the Special Master agreed with the Board’s position that when it adopted the above-quoted language in Policy 32 it appropriated, pursuant to its constitutional power, a water right for a zero cfs minimum stream flow at the Milner Dam Gaging Station. This Court disagrees.”
Willdman said that the Idaho Constitution (in Article 17, Section 7) “grants the Board two separate and distinct constitutional powers at issue here. First, it grants the Board the authority to ‘formulate and implement a state water plan.’ Second, it grants the Board the authority ‘to appropriate public waters as trustee for Agency projects.’ That the board has the constitutional authority to appropriate public waters is unquestioned. However, its authority in this respect is not unbridled. The plain language of Article 15, Section 7 itself provides that the Board may only exercise its authority ‘under such laws as may be prescribed by the legislature.’ And in this case the Legislature has enacted laws to regulate the method and means by which the Board may exercise its constitutional right to appropriate water.”
The board did not follow the prescribed “application, permit and license procedures” in the case of the Milner claims, Wildman said.
And, he said, the “plain language” of the 1976 water plan did not specially create a water right claim at the Milner Dam.
He noted that “the Board argues thst memorializing the zero cfs minimum stream flow established by Policy 32 as a water right is necessary to avoid uncertainty and confusion to water users as well as the water master in administering rights.”
But the judge countered, “a number of provisions already exist which effectively memorialize and provide for the enforceability of the policy. These include the 1976 Water Plan itself, which the Idaho Supreme Court held became effect upon adoption …”
More important, he said, was the SRBA General Provision 4 in Basin 02 (the mid-Snake River area). It effectively provides for the right in question, the judge concluded.