Ruddy-Lamarca v. Dalton Gardens Irrigation Dist., 291 P.3d 437 (Idaho 2012) (holding that the less intrusive installation method defined a permissible width of the easement and the district court’s order directing the dominant estate owner to make every effort to preserve trees and drain field was consistent with the principle of reasonableness).

Dalton Gardens Irrigation District (“District”), a dominant estate owner of an express easement over Ruddy-Lamarca’s (“Lamarca”) land, unsuccessfully appealed a claim to determine the width of the easement.  District’s easement provided it a “right-of-way for the construction, enlargement and maintenance of all canals, flumes and water tanks of the vendor, heretofore constructed or hereafter to be constructed, over and across said lands for the irrigation of other lands.”  Historically, District owned a four-inch buried pipe on the easement across Lamarca’s five acre tract of land located in Kootenai County, Idaho.  District sought to replace the existing pipe with a ten-inch pipe.  District’s proposed method of replacing the existing pipe would require approximately thirty to forty feet of width, and may have killed two, forty to fifty-year-old, maple trees and caused Lamarca’s septic system to fail.  The Supreme Court of Idaho (“Court”) affirmed the district court’s decision that the easement was sixteen feet in width and that District must make every effort to preserve the maple trees and septic drain field when replacing its pipe.

The Court first defined the relevant case law.  Idaho defines an indefinite express easement by the “intent of the parties as demonstrated by the easement’s initial use.”  It also describes an easement by prescription by the continuous and uninterrupted use during the prescriptive period.  A secondary easement provides the right to enter and repair and “do those things necessary to the full enjoyment of the easement.”  Use of a secondary easement must be reasonable, pursuant to Idaho case law.

First, District argued that the “initial use” aspect of its express easement should include the initial method of construction, which was forty feet wide.  The Court disagreed because all previous cases on point defined “initial use” by the constructed size, not by the method of construction.  In other words, District’s “initial use” was not the forty foot wide construction area, but rather the existing four-inch pipe.

Second, District argued that its secondary easement rights should allow the proposed installation of the ten-inch pipe.  The Court noted that, historically, trees had not unreasonably interfered with District’s secondary easement.  While District’s proposed method of installation required three pieces of heavy machinery and forty feet of width, Lamarca’s proposed alternative method only required one piece of heavy machinery and sixteen feet of width.  As such, the Court concluded that a sixteen foot width was reasonable for District’s purposes.

The Court concluded that the requirement that District make every effort to preserve the maple trees and septic drain field was in line with burdening the servient estate “as little as possible.”  Therefore, the Court affirmed the district court’s decision, concluding that the easement had a sixteen foot width and that District had to make every effort to preserve the maple trees and septic drain field.

A & B Irrigation Dist. v. Idaho Dep’t of Water Res., 284 P.3d 225 (Idaho 2012) (holding that the district court did not err in ruling (i) the Ground Water Act applied to the administration of appellant’s water right; (ii) the Director had sufficient evidence to support his decision not to set a reasonable groundwater pumping level; (iii) the Director could force appellant to interconnect prior to filing for a delivery call; and (iv) a clear and convincing evidence standard was proper when a court analyzes the Director’s determinations). 

This case was an appeal of the District Court of Minidoka County’s (“district court”) decision regarding the Director of the Idaho Department of Water Resources’ (“Director”) application of the Rules for Conjunctive Management of Surface and Groundwater Resources (“CM Rules”) to a groundwater delivery call filed by A & B Irrigation District (“A&B”).  A&B’s delivery call was based on its senior water right on the Snake River, which it acquired in 1948, three years prior to the enactment of the Idaho Ground Water Act (“Act”).  The Idaho Department of Water Resources (“IDWR”) licensed and authorized the diversion of 1,100 cfs from 177 points of diversion in order to irrigate approximately 62,000 acres in south-central Idaho.  Underlying the A&B project is the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer (“ESPA”), which serves as the Minidoka Project’s (“project”) water source.  A&B’s delivery call petition sought an administration of junior-priority ground water rights from the ESPA and a designation of the ESPA as a groundwater management area (“GWMA”).  The delivery call petition alleged that junior priority groundwater pumping from the ESPA lowered the water table an average of twenty feet, which resulted in a 126 cfs reduction in A&B’s diversion rate.

The Director concluded that A&B was not materially injured and denied A&B’s request to designate the ESPA as a GWMA. In doing so, the Director accepted a Hearing Officer’s conclusions that A&B had an obligation to take reasonable steps to maximize the use of interconnection to move water within the system before it could seek curtailment or compensation from juniors.  The Director also noted that while conditions in the southwest area make recovery of water from the wells difficult, it is not justification for curtailment.  Further, A&B did not need to exceed reasonable pumping levels.  In response, A&B filed a petition for review with the district court. The district court affirmed the Director’s findings on all parts except for the standard applied to whether or not A&B suffered a material injury.  Therefore, the District Court remanded the proceedings in order to apply the clear and convincing evidence standard.  A&B appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court (“Court”) alleging that: (i) the Director erred in concluding that A&B’s water right is subject to the Act; (ii) the Director erred in finding that A&B was not required to pump water beyond a reasonable ground water pumping level, even though the Director did not provide a specific level; (iii) the Director erred in applying the CM Rules to find that A&B must interconnect wells or well systems across the project before it could file a delivery call; and (iv) the district court erred in imposing the clear and convincing evidence standard.

A&B pointed to a line in the Act that states, “[t]his act shall not affect the rights to the use of ground water in this state acquired before its enactment.” A&B argued that the Act unambiguously does not apply to their water right since it has a priority date that predates the Act.  The district court looked at the Act in its entirety and found that the legislature intended a distinction between the “right to the use of ground water” and “the administration of all rights to use of ground water.”  On appeal, the Idaho Supreme Court agreed and held that Section 4 of the Act provided “the administration of all rights to the use of ground water, whenever or however acquired, shall, unless specifically excepted therefrom, be governed by the provision of this act.”  The Court, after relying on precedent for emphasis, found that a plain reading of the Act shows that the Act applies to the administration of all groundwater rights in Idaho, and therefore it applies to A&B’s water right.

While the district court acknowledged that the Director failed to establish a reasonable groundwater pumping level, it also found the Act gave the Director discretion to determine whether to establish groundwater levels in conjunction with a delivery call.  Additionally, the district court noted that ground water pumping levels have never been treated as an element of a water right.  The Court agreed and held a plain reading of the duties of the Director showed he has a duty to respond to a delivery call and determine whether the right holder suffered an injury, but not to establish a reasonable groundwater pumping level.

A&B argued that Idaho law did not require that it interconnect its separate points of diversion as a condition to administer junior priority groundwater rights.  A&B’s claimed the mandate is unconstitutional, the Director’s actions contradict the language of A&B’s water right decree, there is no mention in the CM Rules of a need to interconnect, and interconnection would not solve the problem of diminished groundwater supply.  The Court rejected each of these arguments in turn by deferring to the Director’s discretion.

Finally, A&B argued that the district court erred in applying the clear and convincing evidence standard of review because Idaho law did not support this higher evidentiary standard. The Court examined a plethora of cases on the matter and concluded that it is Idaho’s longstanding rule that proof of no injury by a junior appropriator in a water delivery call must be by clear and convincing evidence and that all changes to an existing decree must be supported by clear and convincing evidence.  The Court therefore affirmed the district court’s ruling.

The Court held the Act applied to A&B’s water right; the Director did not need to provide a specific reasonable groundwater pumping level; A&B could be forced to interconnect before a delivery call; and that the district court was not wrong in applying a clear and convincing evidence standard. Affirmed.

Pioneer Irr. Dist. v. City of Caldwell, No. 37242, 2012 WL 1449597 (Idaho Apr. 27, 2012) (holding that an irrigation district had the authority to evaluate the reasonableness of encroachments on its easements and rights-of-way and subsequently permit, refuse, or remove encroachments, though the irrigation district did not retain exclusive ownership rights over said property).

The City of Caldwell (“City”) impermissibly authorized developers to construct a municipal stormwater discharge system to discharge into Pioneer Irrigation District’s (“Pioneer”) delivery and drainage facilities. Pioneer sought declaratory and injunctive relief to remove the City’s conduits, arguing that they “unreasonably and materially interfered” with its irrigation system. Both parties moved for summary judgment. The district court delivered a judgment for Pioneer and held that, pursuant to Idaho Code Ann Section 42-1209 (2012) (“Section 42-1209”), Pioneer had exclusive interests in its property. Therefore it had the authority to unilaterally determine which projects could be installed on and removed from its facilities. Because an irrigation district is a quasi-municipal corporation, the district court also held that the standard of review for decisions of irrigation delivery entities, such as Pioneer’s, should be reviewed under the arbitrary and capricious; based upon clearly erroneous findings; or reached through an unreasonable decision-making process standard.

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Idaho (“court”) also applied these standards of review to Pioneer’s decision to deny the City access to build upon its easements and rights-of way. The court reasoned that such limited review was warranted, as the plain language of Section 42-1209 authorized Pioneer to evaluate the impact of proposed projects on its easements and rights-of-way and, based upon its determination, either allow or prohibit projects. Furthermore, Pioneer was required to comply with strict statutory requirements or face liability. Therefore, Pioneer was entitled to judicial deference and limited review.

Applying canons of statutory construction, the court also affirmed the district court’s holding that Pioneer could remove the City’s conduits without a judicial order. This conclusion was consistent with the relevant common law right to “self-help” and furthered the underlying policy of Section 42-1209 – to enable irrigation districts to restore their facilities to conditions that maximize efficiency and minimize liability. Furthermore, the court held that the justifications for limited review of Pioneer’s decision to permit or prohibit a project on its property applied equally to the entity’s decision to remove the conduits without instituting judicial proceedings. Thus, the court applied the same limited standards of review to Pioneer’s decisions to deny projects on, and remove them from, its property.

Notably, the court rejected the district court’s conclusion that irrigation entities retain exclusive interests in their easements and rights-of-way. The court reasoned that Idaho common law provides for community and individual use and enjoyment of an irrigation district’s property so long as such use does not unreasonably interfere with the district’s purpose. Nothing in Section 42-1209 indicated that the legislature wished to abrogate this right.

In sum, the court held that judicial review of such decisions should be limited to determining whether the decisions were arbitrary and capricious, based upon clearly erroneous findings, or reached through an unreasonable decision-making process. The court also affirmed the district court’s holding that Section 42-1209 authorized Pioneer to provide or withhold permission for the construction of the City’s drainage system on Pioneer’s property and to remove those pipes that Pioneer believed interfered with its own system.

The concurring justices disagreed that Section 42-1209 required deferential review of the decisions at issue. The concurrence based its conclusion on the legislature’s failure to explicitly provide for limited review in Section 42-1209 as it had in other statutes. Furthermore, the concurrence argued that applying limited review to a party simply because it has acted in a quasi-municipal capacity would improperly extend limited review to an indefinite number of non-government parties. Instead, the concurrence argued that the court should review an irrigation entity’s decision regarding encroachments on its easements and rights-of-way by determining whether the trespass was unreasonable or materially interfered with the irrigation district’s system. Under this approach, irrigation districts may challenge potentially unreasonable encroachments but may not unilaterally remove systems that were rightfully in place. For these reasons, the concurrence also argued that irrigation districts should not remove encroachments prior to receiving a judicial order finding the encroachment unreasonable.