Water Users stick with Pioneer on eminent domain issue

The resolutions committee of the Idaho Water Users Association voted unanimously Tuesday to support a resolution against the use of eminent domain against irrigation districts.

The resolution comes after Caldwell filed a lawsuit to tke over 10,000 acres of the Pioneer irrigation district in and around the city along with its canals, ditches, drains and other facilities. The panel, made up of irrigation district and canal company officials from around the state ignored the plea of Caldwell attorney Mark Hilty to wait so the city, also a member of the association, and Pioneer could try to work out their differences.

The action all but assures that the group will approve the resolution later this week and that someone is going to go to the Idaho Legislature to try to limit the use of eminent domain against irrigation districts.

The eminent domain option, nuclear as it is, offsets the remarkable power the Idaho Legislature has given the irrigation districts over municipalities when their needs conflict. The Supreme Court ruled last year that cities, counties and highway districts have to get the permission of irrigation districts if they encroach on their facilities and threaten their ability to deliver water.

Caldwell and Pioneer are still locked in a legal fight to determine whether Pioneer has met the proof requirements of the Supreme Court decision. But attorneys from both irrigation districts and municipalities say the eminent domain issue is crucial.

From the city and highway district side, attorneys worry that the demands of the irrigation districts often go beyond the needs of delivering water. The one government agency is forced to pay for improvements for the other agency taxpayers would likely consider extravagant.

Fights over these kind of details delay construction projects and increase taxpayer costs, attorneys say. By having the threat of condemnation, if only for one easement or crossing, lawyers say they can prevent frivolous demands or get a projct moving.

From the irrigation side, attorneys say the irrigation districts know best what they need to meet their patrons needs. They complain that other governments and developers are encroaching on their facilities all the time without permission and they have to stand up for their rights or get run over.

The state’s long term interest is to remove the adversarial relationship as much as possible and force the two governments, whose patrons are often the same people, to work together for the best interests of both. This issue will be in the Legislature again this year and if history is the guide it will mostly follow the lead of the Water Users.