Bills target eminent domain claims for irrigation districts

A long-running dispute in Caldwell leads to legislative action.

(TWIN FALLS) TIMES-NEWSMarch 1, 2014 

House Speaker Scott Bedke introduced measures Thursday that seek to resolve a decadelong water battle in Canyon County that has cost taxpayers at least $2 million.

Bedke said he has been asked to serve as a mediator between the city of Caldwell and Pioneer Irrigation District. The two have fought for years over urban stormwater drained through Pioneer’s canal system.

Pioneer argues that it doesn’t want to be held liable for poor water quality coming from the city and thus be found in violation of the federal Clean Water Act. The two parties have failed to agree on how much the irrigation district should be exempt.

Bedke, R-Oakley, introduced bills to ban cities from claiming eminent domain over irrigation districts; one includes a retroactive clause that would undo decisions dating back to 2012.

Caldwell and Pioneer have gotten nowhere in their attempts to settle. Most recently, the city began condemnation action to take over Pioneer’s property, which includes its drains, canals and ditches.

The Magic Valley has avoided this situation, Bedke said, because cities such as Twin Falls and Jerome maintained a friendly partnership. Bedke said he has been trying to use them as an example for Caldwell and Pioneer, to no avail.

If Caldwell succeeds, he said, it could set a dangerous precedent for other cities in Idaho.

“For a city to condemn an irrigation district and then turn around and run it as an irrigation district is certainly counter to my way of thinking,” Bedke said. “That’s a bridge too far.”

A House committee passed the bills, which now go to the House floor.

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