Idaho Celebrates Water Rights Allocation Process

By Tom Bacon

With completion of a long, laborious legal process to figure out who owns what water in the Snake River basin, Idaho has become the first state to adjudicate water rights on a large scale. Completion of the process was so momentous that Idaho invited Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to preside over a celebration.

Scalia told state dignitaries that adjudication serves a noble purpose. As he put it - It lets people of Idaho know just what they own. He also lauded state officials for setting up an entire court devoted to reviewing water rights.

It cost Idaho more than $93-million to finish the review over the past three decades, but the state is far ahead of other western states - Montana, Arizona and New Mexico, for example - which are still struggling to allocate water rights while fending off lawsuits.

The court is based in south-central Idaho, the location of most of the controversial battles over water appropriations. But water lawyers have now settled more than 158-thousand water rights claims in the region, leaving only 50 still disputed. The adjudication process has now shifted to northern Idaho, where water rights claims have been reviewed since 2009.

Adjudication is a somewhat murky legal process, but in simplest terms, it boils down to "take a number."
If a dispute arises between water users, the one with the lowest number wins. Justice Scalia noted that comp;letiion of the adjudication framework in southern Idaho doesn't eliminate future disputes, but it sets up new rules to control water fights.
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