Clear Springs Foods Inc. v. Spackman, 37308–2010.

Citation150 Idaho 790,252 P.3d 71
Decision Date06 June 2011
Docket NumberNo. 37308–2010.,37308–2010.
PartiesCLEAR SPRINGS FOODS, INC., and Blue Lakes Trout Farm, Inc., Petitioners/Cross–Appellants,v.Gary SPACKMAN, in his capacity as Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources, and the Idaho Department of Water Resources, Respondents,andIdaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc.; North Snake Ground Water District; and Magic Valley Ground Water District, Cross–Petitioners/Appellants,andIdaho Dairymen's Association, Inc., and Rangen, Inc., Intervenors.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Idaho

150 Idaho 790
252 P.3d 71

CLEAR SPRINGS FOODS, INC., and Blue Lakes Trout Farm, Inc., Petitioners/Cross–Appellants,
Gary SPACKMAN, in his capacity as Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources, and the Idaho Department of Water Resources, Respondents,andIdaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc.; North Snake Ground Water District; and Magic Valley Ground Water District, Cross–Petitioners/Appellants,andIdaho Dairymen's Association, Inc., and Rangen, Inc., Intervenors.

No. 37308–2010.

Supreme Court of Idaho,Jerome, December 2010 Term.

March 17, 2011.Rehearing Denied June 6, 2011.

[252 P.3d 74]

Racine Olson Nye Budge & Bailey, Pocatello, for appellants. Thomas J. Budge argued.Barker Rosholt & Simpson, LLP, Twin Falls, for cross-appellant Clear Springs Foods, Inc. John K. Simpson argued.Ringert Law, Chartered, Twin Falls, for cross-appellant Blue Lakes Trout Farm, Inc. Daniel V. Steenson argued.Hon. Lawrence G. Wasden, Attorney General, Boise, for respondents. Christopher M. Bromley argued.EISMANN, Chief Justice.

This is an appeal from a decision on judicial review upholding curtailment orders issued against junior groundwater users because their withdrawals of water from the aquifer were causing material injury to senior appropriators' surface water rights. The senior appropriators also cross-appeal the failure to curtail additional groundwater pumping. We affirm the judgment of the district court.


The Snake River rises in western Wyoming, flows westward across the entire breadth of Idaho, turns northward forming Idaho's western boundary, and ultimately empties into the Columbia River. It is the largest and longest tributary of the Columbia River. As it crosses southern Idaho, it courses through the Snake River plain, a prominent depression extending about 400 miles in an east-west direction and ranging from 50 to 125 miles in width. Underlying the eastern portion of the plain is the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer (Aquifer), which is about 170 miles long and 60 miles wide. It is estimated that it contains up to a billion acre feet of water, which would be

[252 P.3d 75]

roughly the amount of water contained in Lake Erie.

Clear Springs Foods, Inc., (Clear Springs) and Blue Lakes Trout Farm, Inc., (Blue Lakes) (collectively called “Spring Users”) are both engaged in fish farming. They each have water rights in certain springs emanating from the canyon wall along a section of the Snake River below Milner Dam in south central Idaho. Those springs are fed by the Aquifer. Members of the Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc., the North Snake Ground Water District, and the Magic Valley Ground Water District (collectively called “Groundwater Users”) have ground water rights entitling them to pump water from wells drilled into the Aquifer.

The Aquifer is predominately fractured Quaternary basalt having an aggregate thickness that, in some locations, may exceed several thousand feet. It decreases to shallow depths in the area where the springs emanate. The fractured basalt is characterized by high hydraulic conductivities that are typically 1,000 feet per day, but they range from 0.1 to 100,000 feet per day.

The ground water in the Aquifer is hydraulically connected to the Snake River and tributary surface waters at various places and in varying degrees. As a result, ground water can become surface water, and surface water can become ground water. The amount that becomes one or the other is largely dependent upon ground water elevations. When water is pumped from a well, it causes a cone-shaped lowering of the ground water elevation near the well. Surrounding ground water then flows into the cone from all sides, depleting ground water away from the well. When that occurs in an area hydraulically connected to a reach of the river or its tributaries, it results in a loss of water from the river or a loss of gain to the river.

Beginning in the 1950's, groundwater appropriations from the Aquifer increased dramatically. It now receives about 7.5 million acre-feet of recharge on an average annual basis and discharges about the same amount of water, with nearly 2.0 million acre-feet annually of that discharge in the form of depletions from ground water withdrawals. About 95% of the ground water diverted from the Aquifer is used for irrigation. The remainder is used for public, domestic, industrial, and livestock purposes.

After about two decades of increased groundwater pumping, the resulting decrease in river flow caused the Idaho Power Company to commence litigation against the State and various water users regarding its water rights at the Swan Falls Dam. Idaho Power Co. v. State, By and Through Dept. of Water Resources, 104 Idaho 575, 661 P.2d 741 (1983). It sought a determination of the validity of those water rights and a ruling that they were not subject to future upstream depletion. Id. at 578, 661 P.2d at 744. That dam was the first hydroelectric dam on the Snake River and is located in southwestern Idaho near Murphy, the county seat of Owyhee County. It had been constructed in 1901 by the Trade Dollar Consolidated Mining Company to provide electrical power to the mines in the area of Silver City, id. at 578, 661 P.2d at 744, which was then the county seat. In 1915, that company and four other electric power suppliers merged to form the Idaho Power Company. Id. In that merger, Idaho Power acquired the Swan Falls Dam and power plant. Id. Because of the diminished river flow, an Idaho Power ratepayer had filed a complaint with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission alleging that he and other ratepayers were being overcharged because Idaho Power had failed to preserve its power generation water rights at Swan Falls. Id. at 582, 661 P.2d at 748. After Idaho Power's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction had been denied, it answered indicating that it would file an action to protect its Swan Falls water rights, which it did. Id.

One of the issues in that case involved a subordination clause in the federal license issued to Idaho Power in 1955 for its Hells Canyon project. In the 1950's, Idaho Power had desired to construct three dams in Hells Canyon, which is North America's deepest river gorge. To obtain political support for that project, it proposed that its federal license include a clause subordinating its water rights to future upstream depletion. Id. at 580, 661 P.2d at 746. Consistent with that request, the federal license for the three

[252 P.3d 76]

dams contained a subordination clause with no conditions attached. Id. at 581, 661 P.2d at 747. In Idaho Power's litigation to determine its water rights at Swan Falls, the district court held that the subordination clause in the federal license for the Hells Canyon project applied to all of Idaho Power's water rights used in hydropower production at all of its facilities on the entire Snake River watershed, including the one at Swan Falls. Id. at 583, 661 P.2d at 749. On appeal, this Court reversed that holding, id. at 586, 661 P.2d at 752, and remanded the case for consideration of affirmative defenses raised by the defendants, id. at 590, 661 P.2d at 756. “Idaho Power responded by filing a second lawsuit naming as defendants the State of Idaho and approximately 7500 persons claiming water rights in the Snake River basin.” In re Snake River Basin Water System, 115 Idaho 1, 3, 764 P.2d 78, 80 (1988).

Idaho Power had secured a federal court decree which, together with state water licenses, granted it water rights at Swan Falls of 9,450 c.f.s. with priority dates ranging from 1900 to 1919. Idaho Power Co. v. Dept. of Water Resources, 104 Idaho at 578, 661 P.2d at 744. It was undisputed that the power plant's capacity was 8,400 c.f.s., which would be the limit of its water rights. Id. In order to resolve the lawsuits, Idaho Power and the State entered into the Swan Falls Agreement executed on October 25, 1984. In that agreement, Idaho Power agreed, among other things, to “an unsubordinated right of 3900 c.f.s. average daily flow from April 1 to October 31, and 5600 c.f.s. average daily flow from November 1 to March 31, both to be measured at the Murphy U.S.G.S. gauging station immediately below Swan Falls.” Pursuant to the agreement, those flows are not subject to depletion. The State agreed, among other things, to propose and support legislation providing funding for a general adjudication of the Snake River Basin.

In response, the legislature enacted legislation to commence an adjudication of the water rights of the Snake River basin. Ch. 18, § 1, 1985 Idaho Sess. Laws 27, 28. The legislation stated, “Effective management in the public interest of the waters of the Snake River basin requires that a comprehensive determination of the nature, extent and priority of the rights of all users of surface and ground water from the system be determined.” Id. On June 17, 1987, R. Keith Higginson, as Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources (Department), filed a petition in the name of the State to begin the Snake River Basin Adjudication (SRBA), and on November 19, 1987, the court ordered that the adjudication was commenced.

In 1994, an interim legislative committee charged with reviewing the progress of the SRBA issued a committee report in which it stated, “Historically, conjunctive management has not occurred in Idaho, especially between the Snake River Plain Aquifer and the Snake River. To conjunctively manage these water sources a good understanding of both the hydrological relationship and legal relationship between ground and surface water rights is necessary.” A & B Irrigation Dist. v. Idaho Conservation League, 131 Idaho 411, 422, 958 P.2d 568, 579 (1997). The committee also “noted the pendency of studies on conjunctive management investigating the effect of ground water pumping on natural springs that flowed directly into the Snake River.” 1 Id. With respect to the SRBA, the committee stated that the...

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