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Wood River Valley’s Clashes Over Water Began 100-Plus Years Ago
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Tuesday, July 13, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Some 140 junior water users in the Bellevue Triangle saw their groundwater access restored a few days ago following an agreement with state officials. But not before they’d seen a week of vegetation withering during unseasonably scorching temperatures.

This is just the latest chapter in the history of fights over water in the Wood River Valley.

Historian and author John Lundin will offer a virtual talk about battles over water claims from the 1880s to the early 1900s that resulted in early and influential water laws at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, July 15. RSVP for the free talk with Kristin.fletcher@haileypubliclibrary.org

Idaho was still a territory when the first lawsuit over water rights was filed in the River Valley in 1883. Pioneer residents began registering water rights with the county in 1880, riding by horse for days from Hailey to Rocky Bar, which was the county seat at the time.

No one monitored whether here was enough water to support the claims then and so very quickly the claims exceeded supply, said Lundin.

Lundin’s great-grandfather founded the Bellevue Water Company, building wooden pipes to replace the ditches that first carried water to the town. And his relative Neil Campbell dug a five-mile-long canal for his family in the Little Wood River Reservoir on what is now the Flat top Sheep Ranch.

 “Water in our hot, desert climate is an ongoing and vital conversation for everyone this year, from fishers to farmers, from homeowners to government entities,” said Kristin Fletcher, the library’s programs manager. “Important water laws which determine who gets water, when, and how much were often established decades ago.  Historian John Lundin will trace these historical water claims in the Wood River Valley and the many canals dug to provide water to farms and ranches, along with the litigation that resolved conflicting uses.”

 John W. Lundin, who splits his time between Seattle and Ketchum, has written and lectured extensively about Wood River Valley history, inspired by his great-grandparents Matthew and Isabelle Campbell McFall who moved to Bellevue, Idaho, in 1881 and built the McFall Hotel in Shoshone in 1900.

Lundin says he hopes to give another talk on the impact of the Reclamation Act of 1902 on Idaho later this summer.

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