From the January 2002 Idaho Observer:

Water war on west comes to Idaho

Bizarre historical irony allies state, feds and Indians against settlers

In 1986 landowners in the Snake River Basin were directed by the state of Idaho to file water rights claims for springs that originate on their property as part of the state's Snake River Adjudication project. The state told landowners that the filing would be for their own protection as it would prevent other parties from encroaching on their springs. As it turns out, the water rights filings generated an Idaho Department of Water Resources list of privately held springs in north central Idaho. The list is being used by the U.S. government and the Nez Perce Tribe in conjunction with an 1863 treaty to claim 50 percent ownership of the springs identified in state-mandated water claims filings. In a letter dated October 31, 2001, Idaho Attorney General Al Lance notified some 1,800 affected property owners that the Tribe and the U.S. government had filed co-claims against the springs, that the AG didn't find out about it and the time to challenge the claims had expired.

by Alice Mattson

In 1986 we were asked (required) to file a water right claim on our springs along with the Snake River Basin Adjudication. Being good citizens and thinking this was the right thing to do, many private springs were registered. Of course the United States government wouldn't ask anyone to do anything that would “hurt” one of its citizens! The reason given to us was for the “protection” of our water source from any person encroaching on our spring. It appears that the real reason was to prepare a list of all springs so the United States and the Tribe could use this list to file a duplicate claim on our water, as that is what has actually happened. The following quotes are taken from the letter I received from the State of Idaho, Office of the Attorney General:

According to the records of the Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) and the District Court overseeing the Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA), the Nez Perce Tribe, and the United States as trustee for the Nez Perce Tribe, may have filed a water right claim for a spring located on your property. The Tribe and the United States claim the right to the use of 50% of the flow of all springs on certain former tribal lands for stock water, wildlife, cultural, and ceremonial purposes. The Tribe and the United States developed their claims, in part, by examining water right claims on file with IDWR. Whenever they discovered a private water right claim on former tribal lands with a point of diversion listed as a “spring,” they filed a duplicate claim. The private claims used by the United States and the Tribe as the basis for their claims are listed in the enclosed report: “Springs and Fountains Claims on Behalf of the Nez Perce Tribe in Reporting Areas 19, 22, and 24.” If your claim number is on that list, then the United States and the Tribe claim ownership of the spring that is the source of your water right claim.

If a federal reserved water right were decreed for a water source on your property, it is unclear what effect that may have on your water rights. Your use of up to 50% of the flow of the spring could be precluded if necessary for the purposes described in the Tribe's notice of claim: namely stock water, wildlife, cultural and ceremonial...It is also unclear whether decree of the water right in the Tribe's name implies the existence of an easement across your property to allow tribal members and their livestock access to the claimed spring.

(The letter is available in its entirety from Watchmen on the Wall, see contact information below).

The deadline to file objections to the Tribe's claims has passed. Exactly how were we to know that there was any problem?

The reason for filing a claim in the first place was to “protect” our springs. The state didn't notify us that someone had filed a claim on top of ours. The whole thing sounds insane, but sadly it's true. Where are our public officials when we need them to fight for our private property rights?

If I were an elected official, I would be informing my county about this and screaming at the top of my lungs for all of us to stand together and stop this action before it goes any further. Don't forget about this and just think the State will take care of us. Although Idaho will be taking this to court in October 2002, we all know that the courts may not be too friendly when it comes to private property rights. After all, the United States is supporting the Tribe as the letter states: “the Nez Perce Tribe, and the United States as trustee for the Nez Perce Tribe.”

There are approximately 1,800 claims. Many are listed as just a number and not a name. I'm not sure whether all of the people directly involved have been notified or not. We need to be one large voice and protest as loudly as we can. Even if you are not one of the 1800, don't think that this will not affect you if it's not reversed.

Can you imagine what could be next? Just think! Already, the Forest Service (United States) has closed roads and trails and will not let us have access to most of our public lands in Idaho County. We can't haul wood or harvest timber that will eventually die and burn. We can no longer drive our motorized vehicles or graze our cattle on public lands.

We are being locked out! In the name of fish and the water that has to be protected to save them, we are being forced out of our livelihoods because there are no jobs left. Rural people are not in the scheme of things anymore. We are being forced to relocate into the cities because we aren't allowed to make a living here anymore. The timber and agricultural industries are struggling to stay alive. If we are locked out of the forests and lose our jobs and lose our private water rights, too, will we just give up and leave out homes and the lives that we love behind forever? We have to put a stop to this insanity NOW.


Mrs. Mattson is a property owner in Clearwater, Idaho. She is a manager and Legislative editor for Watchmen On the Wall, LLC, a conservative information and watchdog group headquartered in Stites, Idaho.


The Watchmen On the Wall, LLC.

Contact Tom Simmons (208) 935-1667

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