Tribe Looking To Claim Water Rights in North Idaho Process

By Steve Jackson

Idaho officials will be taking up the issue of water rights in North Idaho this fall. That, after the negotiation process was approved by the legislature this year. The process is called water adjudication, and will determine who gets how much of the region's water. The state has had a senior water rights policy for years, but also has a “lose it or use it policy” meaning if some aren’t using their current rights, they can be taken away.

The Coeur d'Alene Tribe is poised to dramatically increase it water rights holding. As per procedure, The US Justice Department has filed for 353 water rights claims on behalf of the tribe. The tribe’s legislative director, Helo Hancock, says the tribe is not looking to take any current water rights away from others and no one should be concerned they will lose their present water rights.
 
Hancock: “Where’s always a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to tribal law water rights claims. I think there are some folks who believe that no matter what amount the tribe claims, they’re going to take their individual water right away, and that’s just not the case.”
 
One who is concerned about the tribe's request is Coeur d'Alene resident Gary Mitchell, of the Northwest Property Owners Alliance. He says water resource regulations require priority date to be set for each water right, based on when water was first needed for that use. But he says co some of the tribes claims are dated from 1873.
 
Mitchell: “Claims flied by the Department of Justice for the tribe seem to ignore that requirement. 1873 was claimed as a priority date for thoroughly modern uses like the casino and golf courses, and it’s just that I think if we're going to file water claims, we need to the set priority date is when water is put to good use.”
 
Idaho Department of Water's resources spokesperson Carter Frichley says it’s somewhat complicated, but the dates on those water claims originate from federal law, rather than state law.
 
Frichley: “And it’s true that state based claims are based on state law date from the first beneficial use of first application of permit, but claims based on federal law can date back to federal creation of the reservation.”
 
The water resources spokesman says the state of Idaho has filed objections to all of the tribes water claims though the attorney general's office. The deadline for filing an objection is September the 29th
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