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IDWR: Adjudication protects, preserves water rights

Staff Writer | November 28, 2021 1:00 AM

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SANDPOINT — Contrary to what a Bonner County resident is claiming in a YouTube video, the state’s water adjudication process aims to protect and document users’ existing rights.

"The Clark Fork-Pend Oreille River Basin Adjudication enables existing water users to claim the quantities and priority dates for their water rights and have them recognized by an Idaho Court decree," Idaho Department of Water Resources officials said in a press release.

The effort to notify water users in the Clark Fork-Pend Oreille River Basin of the adjudication process and their rights is proceeding on schedule, officials said. Water users can file claims online anytime or wait until they receive a notice in the mail.

Notices are being mailed to landowners in sub-areas of the Clark Fork-Pend Oreille River Basin through the first half of 2022. However, Craig Saxton, adjudication section manager, said water users are not required to file water right claims until they receive the IDWR notice.

The Clark Fork-Pend Oreille River Basin Adjudication enables existing water users to claim the quantities and priority dates for their water rights and have them recognized by an Idaho Court decree, Saxton said. Confirming the priority date matters because, in times of water scarcity, water users who are first in time are first in right, under Idaho water law.

However a YouTube video posted Nov. 21, has gained traction over the week since it was posted, claiming the process was an effort by the state to claim those rights. That erroneous information prompted IDWR officials to issue the release to assure residents that while the process is underway, there is plenty of time to file their water rights claims.

In the video, Chad Catron of North Country Off Grid, a YouTube channel with 118,000 subscribers, tells viewers that their water rights “are being taken from you,” specifically pointing to Bonner and Boundary counties. He warns viewers they only have a limited amount of time to claim their rights to any water sources on their land and, if they don’t register for them, the “state of Idaho owns them forever.”

“What is taking place right now is the state of Idaho, and this has gone through guys, there’s no battling this right now,” the Bonner County resident tells viewers of the video which has been viewed more than 18,000 times. “This is something that a whole lot of legislation and a whole lot of peer would need to reverse this and that’s most likely not going to happen because once the government gets power, they generally don’t give it up.

In the video, Catron claims the process is the start of “a land grab” by the state and warns viewers they need to take action. He tells them he is conflicted between recognizing the state of Idaho’s power and being a part of their “controlled game where you register your stuff or lose it” or taking a stand.

And that, IDWR officials said is simply not the case. The purpose of the adjudication process is simple and straightforward — to document and protect the rights held by water users.

So far, the department has sent out 5,000 notices to owners of property primarily located in the northwestern portion of Bonner County and western Boundary County, including the Priest River drainage, which includes the communities of Coolin and Priest River. Later, notices of claim filing requirements will be mailed to landowners located in most of central and eastern Bonner County.

IDWR officials said the department will catalog and verify all surface and ground water uses claimed in the Clark Fork-Pend Oreille River basins as part of the adjudication process. Eventually, IDWR will file a director’s report, detailing the department’s recommendations to district court regarding the elements of each water right. Ultimately, the court issues a decree confirming the elements of each water right.

Notices are being mailed to every property owner within the adjudication boundaries because the location of many existing water uses in the area is not known, officials said.

IDWR has records for about 2,700 water rights on file for Clark Fork-Pend Oreille River drainages. However, it is expected that up to 9,000 water right claims will be filed in the area as part of the adjudication.

While a notice of claim is required for all water uses, officials said that owners of small domestic or stock water rights may choose to file a claim now or wait until later in the process.

Water users who receive all of their water from a city, irrigation or water utility district, or a company are not required to file a claim for that water. A water delivery organization typically files for the water right used by all its customers or patrons.

To file a notice of claim, go to People can file a claim online or on a hard-copy form and submit the claim by mail.

Water users also can make an appointment with a representative at the IDWR regional offices at the Northern Region office, 7600 Mineral Drive, Suite 100, Coeur d’Alene; or the state office, 322 E. Front St., Boise.

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