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Got Water (rights)?

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Broom-Hilda © and ®2011, Tribune Media Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission. Broom-Hilda © and ®2011, Tribune Media Services, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

It's all about adjudication.

(PART I) 

This is probably going seem irrelevant to a lot of you readers but there’s a tiny band of us ‘southerners’ down here at the bottom end of Lake Pend Oreille to whom it pertains. It’s about water rights so you might want to read this anyway.

Historically, this right has been a cherished possession sold and handed down with pride, fought and died over and stolen. Life sucks wind without water!

Thirty years ago, my wife and I looked for land and water was our first criteria, followed by access, southern slope, good trees, power and phone availability, and above all, daisies and deer beans. We scored on all counts. Our well is 275 feet deep and the water is so good even our goldfish think they’ve died and gone to heaven.

I tend to take advantage of this precious resource by wasting some of it on flower beds and vehicles. But lately I’ve been washing’ my truck in Sandpoint, peein’ on our posies and instructing any visitors to do the same. So far it’s been working quite well.

Generally, life out here is pretty mellow and serene. If I stay home, not much screws with my mood other’n most bugs, some weeds, a few critters, and free-range hunters with big trucks and old maps showing even older ‘jeep trails’ who can’t fathom the phrase “private road.” 

Another draw of this lifestyle would be the background buffet of chain saws, cows, dirt bikes with tuned exhaust, semi-automatic artillery and the occasional ‘black powder’ enthusiasm. The ‘Village’ is here, we’re just scattered through the trees like moose poop. We’ll talk about these some other time; right now I’m all about water. 

“Life is water and water is life.” This saying is as old as ‘us’ itself and it weighs heavy on my mind when I get an official looking letter concerning my ability to use it.

When I got said letter on one Saturday mornin’ dump run in September, I was in too good of a mood to even open it, so I saved it for late Monday when my resilience would be built up by natural causes. This worked pretty good until I got all the way down to the third line which basically said (in red letters) that my failure to take action WILL mean my water right would no longer exist.

This meant only one thing: time for a beer. 

My rationality restored, I grabbed a handful of highlighters and went line for line through this six page notice using yellow for concern, orange for whenever my eyebrows went up, blue for puckered cheeks and hot pink for sudden gas or spilled beer. Now my official notice looks like it’s been laying on a kindergarten activity table for a few weeks.

With line two mentioning a filing deadline of November 4th and page five’s last line ending with “… you may consult your attorney,” I unanimously designated the month of October to be a fine time to give this matter its due and hit my procrastination button so hard I had to go buy a new one.

By the time October rolled around, I still didn’t feel like lookin’ up words such as adjudication, so I drew this month’s cartoon instead. This recharged my demeanor and gave me courage to push on, especially when I got permission from Julie at Tribune Media Services to use the image of Russell Myers’ Broom-Hilda!

Now, my little dictionary describes adjudication thusly: to hear, determine and settle (a case) by judicial procedure. My ten-pounder said pretty much the same thing only with more syllables. Hmm, case? I checked out a few sites on the web and discovered that a while back, permission was requested (and denied) to build two more gas-fired, water-fed power generators east of the state line near where one already exists. These, it turns out, caused a great deal of concern and, given the nature and scope of this magnificent underground treasure, a general adjudication of all water rights within the Coeur d’Alene-Spokane River Basin water system in Idaho was ordered. This will result in a decree determining all water rights within this system, inventoried to assure proper delivery of water in times of shortage and provide certainty to property owners. That last part was back lit in blue, pink and a beer stain. If there’s one thing I’ve gathered in the last 59-plus years it’s that uncertainty is the only thing that is certain.

I surveyed some of my closest neighbors and of course I got mixed reactions. One hocked a loogie, said, “That’s nice,” and drove off. Another said, “What notice?” Two more said they’d already done their homework and insinuated I was some sorta lowly procrastinator or something even more ridiculous.

Eager to peel that label off, I opened a 16oz. bottle of ‘woopass’, went back to the computer, downloaded the forms (six pages) and instructions (twelve pages) and try as I might to concentrate, the two sides of my brain started wrestlin’ with meanings, descriptions, interpretations and old grudges until my wife set off the smoke alarm, signaling dinner. No worries, I still had 29 days to file.

Taking stock of the progress I’d made up to that point got me to see the humor in all this paperwork, so I called Idaho Department of Water Resources to see if I could come down there and share some of it.

I had a nice visit with a true gentleman named Ken who helped me fill out the claim forms, answered my questions and eased my mood a great deal. It took my legal description, autograph, twenty minutes and only twenty-five dollars to complete the process! A darn good deal in any government building. 

Now I await the director’s recommendations concerning my claim via another official-looking letter probably on some blissful Saturday morning dump run where this will start all over again.

Meanwhile, I will continue to look over my key pad at anything that pops up on my screen concerning the lake under our feet that we draw our life from. One site I found gave an estimated volume of the aquifer at ten trillion gallons with roughly half a million straws tapped into it—some of which are rather large—so it’s a fairly big subject.

Even in the driest of years, we’ve never had low water and I pray that doesn’t ever change. I don’t mind springing for a new pump every decade or so, but I’m opposed to having to go deeper.

WSU did a study recently concerning recharging the aquifer for higher late- summer flows in the Little Spokane River by pumping Lake Pend Oreille water in springtime over to Garwood and injecting it under the western edge of the Rathdrum prairie. 

I ran this notion past my local think tank and even though we were three noggins short of a legal quorum, the response was an overwhelming “Ppfffftt.” Two beers slipped their grip and hit the floor causing the closest thing to a shower some of us had seen in a week. There was more, I just can’t repeat it.

Part two of this topic will come along after the director does his thing and lets me know what it is. Stay tuned and do a little research of your own.

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Author info

Scott Clawson Scott Clawson No, he's not the electrician, he's the OTHER Scott Clawson, who's a quality builder when he's not busy busting a gut while writing his humor column for the first issue of each month, or drawing his Acres n' Pains cartoons.

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water rights, water adjudication, Idaho Department of Water Resources, Broom-Hilda

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