Canyon Farm Bureau takes irrigation district's side in dispute with Caldwell

The Canyon County Farm Bureau has weighed in on the side of the Pioneer Irrigation District in its dispute with the city of Caldwell over stormwater drainage.

The farm group voted unanimously to call on the City of Caldwell to drop its eminent domain lawsuit against Pioneer Irrigation District.

“The Board’s message is clear and unequivalent: if it isn’t broken, then let’s not try to fix it until it is,” said Roger Batt, Canyon Farm Bureau Executive Director.

Caldwell officials dispute the idea that there is no problem. They have been fighting since 2008 over draining stormwater from the city in Pioneer’s canals. Stormwater drainage went on for a century unquestioned until federal regulations and increased development raised concerns with the district over liability and flooding.

The use of condemnation proceeding has raised the ire of not only the Farm Bureau but also the Idaho Water Users Association. The Farm Bureau said it was an issue of private property rights and it “strongly supports private property rights rather than eminent domain action, which in this instance could result in Pioneer’s private property rights being attacked via the court system.”

The interesting part of that argument is that the Pioneer Irrigation District is not a private company. At issue is where its rights end and its patrons begin.

Many of them are also citizens of Caldwell and they are paying taxes that are paying lawyers in both sides of the dispute.

Pioneer is a governmental body with elections and taxing authority whose government property is for providing its patrons with water and drainage services only. It argues that it holds the water rights, the facilities and the drainage rights "in trust" for its patrons.

The City of Caldwell’s attorney Mark Hilty said Pioneer provides a public service and is different that a private canal company. He argues the rights are held by the people who own the land that uses the water and drainage.

Caldwell’s proposal to take over a portion of the irrigation district in the city would simply change the government that would provide the service, he said.

The Farm Bureau is skeptical.

“ Despite the City of Caldwell’s claims, the Board simply does not believe the city can ever deliver the same quality of service and affordability that water users are currently receiving from Pioneer,” Batt said.