In what Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, calls a "devastating blow to Idaho's water sovereignty," almost 3,000 claims to water rights upstream of Idaho wilderness areas were placed in doubt by an Oct. 1 ruling of the Idaho Supreme Court.
The court ruled 3-2 that when the federal
government established wilderness areas in Idaho, it also reserved
water rights "by implication." That means upstream rights
established after the designation of the Frank Church-River of No
Return, the Gospel Hump, and the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness areas
could be overturned.
Wilderness activists are
hailing the ruling, but some Idahoans are worried. Idaho uses more
water per person than any other state in the nation, largely
because of its reliance on irrigated agriculture. The 3.5 million
acres of irrigated farmland in southern Idaho earn $2.9 billion
each year. Many fear that the decision could harm agriculture as
well as ski resorts that rely on water to make
Bruce Bernard, an attorney with the U.S.
Department of Justice, says the Forest Service is not out to claim
every drop of water in the river, and that conflicts with private
rights will be minimal.
Says Bernard, "It appears
that there are some who want to portray this decision in the most
draconian light instead of working with us to make this decision
The state has asked the Idaho Supreme
Court to rehear the case and may petition the U.S. Supreme Court as
well. Sen. Crapo has also introduced a bill in Congress to preserve
state control of water, a move facing stiff opposition from