Justice Gerald F. Schroeder
BOISE -- Former Idaho Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerald Schroeder enjoyed just one day of "retirement" before pulling the black-and-white shirt back on to referee one of the state's messiest disputes. The Idaho Department of Water Resources (IDWR) announced yesterday that Justice Schroeder will serve as independent hearing officer for aggrieved users in a contentious eastern Idaho water-rights fight. Schoeder offically retired from the state Supreme Court July 31. Spats between groundwater pumpers and surface-water users currently threatens the water supply of both upstream farmers and downstream industries and municipalities in eastern Idaho. At issue is which side has primary rights to the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer. Justice Schroeder served on the Supreme Court for 12 years, the last three as Chief Justice. In that period the Justice deliberated in more than 30 cases involving disputes over Idaho water rights and authored 10. He was the first choice of water users and the IDWR to hear the cases, involving Thousands Springs and the Surface Water Coalition, said IDWR Director David Tuthill. He called Schroeder's agreement to serve "a breath of fresh air in what has been a difficult water year in Idaho." Western states like Idaho, Colorado and Montana regularly host legal tussles over water rights in high-ground areas, where streams often rise and flow in several directions. The current dispute around the East Snake River began on March 5 this year with a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the current balance between surface- and ground-water users. That reversed a lower-court ruling in favor of upstream users with "senior" surface-water rights. The Idaho statehouse a few days later appropriated extra funds for IDWR and private consultants CDR Associates to beef up the state's water-management resources, LNL reported. A proposed bill would also give the IDWR authority over all the state's aquifers. Justice Schroeder will commence hearings for the Thousand Springs area on Nov. 28, 2007 and for the Surface Water Coalition on Jan. 16, 2008.