A fight over Western water and the laws based on the prior appropriation and beneficial use doctrines has been settled in a recent decision of the Supreme Court of Idaho.
The court reversed an earlier ruling that would have allowed the federal government to set aside "federal reserved water rights" when it created wilderness areas in Idaho. The case was brought by the small towns of Salmon and Challis, ID, through the Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) to provide water for their day-to-day needs.
"Had the efforts of the Clinton Administration to assert federal rights over Idaho’s water been successful, the two central Idaho communities would have not have been able to meet the water needs of their residents and visitors," says William Perry Pendley, MSLF chief legal officer.
While this case does not necessarily set widespread precedence, it does put the federal government on notice that it cannot arbitrarily lay claims to water appropriated under decades-old water law and more than a century of legal doctrine.
The Idaho court agreed with MSLF that there is no language in the Wilderness Act of 1964 that there must be federal reserved water rights to fulfill the purposes of the act. While the Clinton Administration had intended to fight this water battle through the U.S. Supreme Court, there’s no indication the Bush Administration will proceed with the case.
For more information on this case and other legal battles affecting water and private property rights, visit the MSLF Web site at www.mountainstatslegal.com .
Interior Secretary Norton Is MSLF Alumna
Former Mountain States Legal Foundation (MSLF) attorney Gale Norton was chosen by President George W. Bush as the first female Secretary of Interior. Norton, who worked for MSLF from 1979-1985, follows in the footsteps of former MSLF president James G. Watt, who became Secretary of Interior in 1981.
Norton later distinguished herself as an attorney for the USDA and Interior Department before being elected Colorado’s attorney general in 1990. She had a private law practice in Denver when she was picked to head the Interior Department.