Idaho Supreme Court (front)
BOISE -- Private ranchers who have been grazing livestock on federal rangeland prior to the passage of a U.S. grazing act hold instream water rights, the Idaho Supreme Court recently ruled.
In the case of Joyce Livestock Co. vs. the United States of America (No. 39576) the Supreme Court affirmed a district court ruling that Joyce Livestock staked its water rights claim by grazing livestock beginning in 1898. This predates the federal government's Taylor Grazing Act in 1934.
"Joyce Livestock's predecessors obtained water rights on federal land for stock watering simply by applying the water to a beneficial use through watering their livestock in the springs, creeks, and rivers on the range they used for forage," the Supreme Court ruled.
The Supreme Court also agreed with the district court's denial of water rights to the federal government "based upon appropriations by those it permitted to use the rangeland after enactment of the Taylor Grazing Act."
The top court also upheld the district court's refusal to award attorney fees to Joyce Livestock in the case. The SC agreed that the U.S. "did not act frivolously, unreasonably, or without foundation in asserting its water rights claim and opposing the claim of Joyce Livestock."
However, the Supreme Court tossed the district court's ruling that the earliest priority date Joyce Livestock could establish for water rights was April 26, 1935. The court remanded that portion of the case for "a re-determination of the priority dates of such rights."
Joyce Livestock owns about 10,000 acres of grazing land in the southern Idaho county of Twin Falls.