I would like to thank the Press for the Feb. 6 story on water rights and its related July 6, 2014, "North Idaho prepares for water wars." Some of you may remember the quote from Mark Twain "whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over." Yes water issues are now at the shores of North Idaho.
Sometime during the Clinton administration another scheme was devised to try and control the states. The federal government instructed states to quantify their waters or they would do it for them. (Sound familiar?) It took southern Idaho nearly 20 years to do it. The carrot on the stick was that if the water user diverting water from a source; stream, lake or well, would establish a 'first in time first in right' water right then the water user would forever be protected from a new neighbor running the right holder's water source dry. There is prudence in doing so for that and other reasons.
In the Friday story it mentioned the North Idaho Water Rights Association and its prominent water right attorney Norm Semanko and the worry that they would have to get permission from the Tribe to use their water. That worry is founded on past history in Idaho and that of other states. Not only is Norm a prominent attorney in this field he is also the director of the Idaho Water Users Association and a past Chairman of the State Republican Party. He is also the Attorney for North West Property Owners Alliance (NWPOA).
NWPOA has been doing townhalls at local community centers and Grange Halls on water adjudication since last summer, the latest was at the Blanchard Community Center on Feb. 2. We have been working closely with NIWRA and Pam Secord since its beginnings as they mostly represent Shoshone and Benewah counties.
Yes we do advise those in zones 92, 94 and 95 (Kootenai County) to establish their water right claim. If you live in a city or have a water district that supplies your water be sure they have their claims filed. Some have not and there is only a year left to do it before they close this basin. Once they have done so you will have to go through a court process with a senior water claimant to establish your right and to be able to transfer that right upon sale of your property.
Getting to the Tribe, I have met with the representative of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and it was conveyed to me that their desire was to be a good partner in a process they did not ask for. You see the Bureau Of Indian Affairs (federal government) files the claims for all tribes across the nation. They promise tribes that if they go along they can together control large amounts of state water worth millions of dollars in negotiated settlements. (You would think they have learned from previous government promises) The Tribe spokesman told me "The Tribe is most interested in making sure that the lake and its tributaries have enough water to protect future generations of people, animals and fish living in the basin and that we have enough water for people living on the reservation for the foreseeable future into perpetuity." Does that sound like they are only interested in the waters of the Reservation land, about 345,000 acres, in which they only own around 25 percent with about 2,000 tribe members? I would like to trust our local Tribe but Ronald Reagan once famously quoted "trust but verify."
Here is what you have not heard. In the federal government filing dated Jan. 31 2014, filed on behalf of the Tribe, "Prior to the creation of the Coeur d'Alene Reservation, the Coeur d'Alene Tribe held aboriginal title to 'more than 3.5 million acres in what is now northern Idaho and northeastern Washington, including the area of Lake Coeur d'Alene and the St. Joe River." In the official Tribe brochure it prominently states, "The Aboriginal territory of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe spanned nearly four million acres throughout present-day northern Idaho, northeastern Washington and western Montana." The map within shows the boundaries spanning from Spokane to Superior, Montana and the Dworshak Reservoir to Sandpoint. The Federal claims go on to say, "Based on fishing culture steeped in the history of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe dating back to aboriginal times, the United States claims a priority date of time immemorial for the in stream flow claims."
The fishing culture claims are very concerning because in western Montana there was to be a negotiated 'compact' between the citizens of Montana and the Salish/Kootenai tribes whose Reservation encompasses Flathead Lake. After 20 years of back and forth those tribes have declared they own all waters of the western half of Montana due to aboriginal fishing in streams. They have still to get the Montana Legislature to pass the compact. You may think that would be hard to do but the CSKT has spent millions of dollars (of our money) to lobby the Legislature and for a major ad campaign in favor of taking the water rights away from the state.
One thing our tribe representative said that I agree with is that if North Idaho does not claim its waters it will go downstream and Washington tribes will claim it. Currently the Upper Columbia United Tribes (UCUT) are proposing the reintroduction of anadromous fish above Chief Joseph and Grand Coolee dams to all reaches and tributaries through the building of fish ladders. See where they are going with that? In Washington they could also claim the right to our Rathdrum/Spokane Aquifer just as they, through the EPA, are controlling the sewage discharges on our side of the border. The UCUT have even gone so far as to say "Since time immemorial, the Creator gave all the Columbia River Basin tribes the responsibility to protect the water, fish and wildlife within their geographic areas." Are they claiming to be favored over all the people of our country in God's eyes?
In Idaho the time has passed to object to these claims by the federal government, thankfully NWPOA and NIWRA have, with the help of Norm Semanko filed objections for hundreds of claims holders and some private individuals, companies and even the city of Coeur d'Alene! The state of Idaho has filed objections to ALL claims by federal government entities in order to protect Idaho waters for Idaho citizens. Without objections the Indians and other federal entities would have full control of our water to be used by us as they would decide. Sure we have plenty of water here in God's country but whose is it?
If you would like to learn more, Norm Semanko will be the keynote dpeaker at the annual NWPOA dinner on March 14. For details go to nwpoa.org
Jeff Tyler of Coeur d'Alene is director of the North West Property Owners Alliance.