Litigation watch: Water rights on federal lands case gears up

Ranch horse near a stream
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Although Idaho is not one of the Colorado River Basin states generally followed here at, it shares a ranching industry where ranchers lease public lands to graze their livestock.  Oftentimes, the public land is contiguous to the rancher’s private land and there are situations where a stream might flow through both the public and private holdings.

In Livestock v. U.S.A, 144 Idaho 1Opens in a new tab. (Idaho 2007), the State’s supreme court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the Joyce Livestock Company established a water right on federal lands and disallowed the U.S. water right claims.  East Idaho NewsOpens in a new tab. explains that state “officials and ranchers have interpreted that ruling to mean that the federal government can’t maintain water rights because it does not put the water to a beneficial use because it doesn’t own cattle that graze the land and drink the water.”   Following legislation enacted in 2017, based in part on the 2007 court decision, ranchers were able to control in-stream water rights on federal lands with a state-approved forfeiture procedure.

The United States has sued the State of IdahoOpens in a new tab., seeking to invalidate the State’s forfeiture procedure.



Since 1995, Deborah has owned and operated LegalTech LLC with a focus on water rights. Before moving to Arizona in 1986, she worked as a quality control analyst for Honeywell and in commercial real estate, both in Texas. She learned about Arizona's water rights from the late and great attorney Michael Brophy of Ryley, Carlock & Applewhite. Her side interests are writing (and reading), Wordpress programming and much more.

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