CALDWELL -- A dispute over storm water and drainage in Caldwell is costing both sides millions, and some say, could have repercussions for years to come. One side says it's trying to save money, and retain property rights, while the other says it's trying to prevent a dangerous precedent being set, and also retain property rights.
"This is an issue that's been going on for about four years," said Erik Stidham, a lawyer who's representing the City of Caldwell.
In 2008, Pioneer Irrigation District in Caldwell filed a lawsuit to force the City to remove outfalls of storm water, saying the possibly polluted water was ending up on lawns and crops. That still hasn't been completely resolved. But in November of this year, the City filed suit to try to keep those outfalls by taking control of about a third of the irrigation district.
"It's really been a last resort for Caldwell," said Stidham. He says Caldwell is a bigger and better-suited entity for the job.
He also says, while the city is trying to take water rights from the irrigation district, they're not trying to take those rights from individuals. "What we're talking about is two governmental entities; one, the irrigation district, and on the other side, Caldwell, and who's going to administer the rights. The water rights are held by the individual property owners. That doesn't change."
Those with the irrigation district, however, call it a hostile takeover. Norm Semanko, Executive Director of the lobbyist group Idaho Water Users Association, tells the Associated Press, "What Caldwell is saying with this eminent domain lawsuit is, 'We're going to take over the system and make our own rules.'"
Stidham claims the city is trying to maintain the rights of owners to drain their property. But, Semanko says that's wrong, and could have disastrous long-term effects. "Where does this thing end? If a city isn't happy with how their highways are being run, do they exercise their power of eminent domain against the local highway district?"
Again, the original 2008 lawsuit was partially resolved, with the Supreme Court finding for the irrigation district. The remaining element goes to trial in June when a judge will decide if Caldwell has to remove 20 storm water outfalls. The City says it would cost millions to build a new drainage system.
If they win their bid to take control of a chunk of the irrigation district, their lawyer says the City offered to employ all Pioneer Irrigation employees who want to work for them.