Idaho Statutes

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42-501.  legislative intent. In the landmark case of Joyce Livestock Company v. United States of America, 144 Idaho 1, 156 P.3d 502 (2007), the Idaho Supreme Court held that an agency of the federal government cannot obtain a stockwater right under Idaho law unless it actually owns livestock and puts the water to beneficial use.
In Joyce, the court held that the United States:
"bases its claim upon the constitutional method of appropriation. That method requires that the appropriator actually apply the water to a beneficial use. Since the United States has not done so, the district court did not err in denying its claimed water rights."
The court also held that federal ownership or management of the land alone does not qualify it for stockwater rights. It opined:
"The United States claimed instream water rights for stock watering based upon its ownership and control of the public lands coupled with the Bureau of Land Management’s comprehensive management of public lands under the Taylor Grazing Act…The argument of the United States reflects a misunderstanding of water law…As the United States has held, Congress has severed the ownership of federal lands from the ownership of water rights in nonnavigable waters located on such lands."
The court went on to state:
"Under Idaho Law, a landowner does not own a water right obtained by an appropriator using the land with the landowner’s permission unless the appropriator was acting as agent of the owner in obtaining that water right…If the water right was initiated by the lessee, the right is the lessee’s property, unless the lessee was acting as the agent of the owner…The Taylor Grazing Act expressly recognizes that ranchers could obtain their own water rights on federal land."
A rancher is not unwittingly acting as an agent of a federal agency simply by grazing livestock on federally managed lands when he files for and receives a stockwater right.
It is the intent of the Legislature to codify and enhance these important points of law from the Joyce case to protect Idaho stockwater right holders from encroachment by the federal government in navigable and nonnavigable waters.
Further, in order to comply with the Joyce decision, it is the intent of the Legislature that stockwater rights acquired in a manner contrary to the Joyce decision are subject to forfeiture pursuant to sections 42-222(2) and 42-224, Idaho Code.

[42-501, added 2017, ch. 178, sec. 2, p. 408; am. 2018, ch. 320, sec. 1, p. 747; am. 2020, ch. 253, sec. 2, p. 739.]

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