The Idaho supreme Court on March 18 unanimously ruled against a water right claim in the SRBA sought by Bruce and Jared Bedke, even concluding that their argument was frivolous.
The case has been long-running in the SRBA, however, and marks some clear distinctions about the meaning of water diversion and how it applies to Idaho constitutional water law.
The Bedkes, who have operated ranches in Cassia County, for many decades use water from the city of Oakley (for which they paid the city). That ended in 1991 when Oakley capped the line and offered a different plan for water delivery. The Bedkes declined the offer, dropping payment for one of two city water rights while continuing payment for the other, 45-13792.
When in September 2004 the Idaho Department of Water Resources developed its director’s report for the water basin the area (Basin 45), it recommended the Bedke rights not be allowed. The Bedkes objected, in effect claiming that some of the city water water in effect theirs – and bringing the city of Oakley into the legal case.
In December 2006, a special master’s report sided with the city. After a string of further developments, the Bedkes issued a challenge to the report in February 2008. A month later, SRBA Judge John Melanson rejected their claims and upheld the master.
The master’s report said that “the Bedkes did not divert the water from its sources. Remember, the Bedkes did not claim the City‘s pipeline as the source – they claimed ‘spring’ as the source for each claim. The City diverted the water and the Bedkes are merely ‘piggy backing’ their claim on another‘s diversion works. The inevitable conclusion is that the Bedkes cannot lawfully appropriate the water from the springs by claiming the City‘s diversion works as their point of diversion and the City‘s pipeline as their point of rediversion. While the Bedkes may have had the requisite intent to apply the water to a beneficial use, they failed to prove they diverted water from [the Springs]. The City diverted the water flowing in its pipeline for a public use and the Bedkes are no more than ‘customers’ of the City when they draw water from the pipeline to water their livestock.”
The Supreme Court, in agreeing with the master and the SRBA court, cited that passage at length. They also cited as “worthy of being repeated” a Melanson comment on the worthiness of the Bedke claim:
“The water rights claimed by the Bedkes are based on water historically diverted by the City and delivered though its system to customers within its service area, including Bedkes. Although Bedkes, like any other municipal customer, are the ‘end users’ of the water, such a municipal customer does not develop an interest in the right. The purpose of use of a municipal right is to deliver water to customers within the service area. The City was using its rights consistent with that purpose of use. The only factor that changed was that Bedkes eventually stopped paying for the water service and the City did not immediately suspend their service. Nonetheless, Bedkes were always using the City‘s water pursuant to its water right. Bedkes presented no facts to establish that they diverted the water or contracted with the City to use its delivery system only. Further, Bedkes cite no legal theory or authority to establish a right by operation of law, such as prescriptive easement. Under Bedkes‘ argument, every municipal water user who historically used municipal water prior to the mandatory permit requirements could claim a beneficial use claim junior to the municipality delivering the water. This argument ignores the purpose of municipal rights and ultimately puts the City in the position of having to defend against frivolous claims.”
The Supreme Court said, “the Bedkes‘ pursuit of their claims has been frivolous at every stage of these proceedings, and we therefore award the City attorney fees on appeal.”
[The decision is available on line.]