A water district:
- is an organized government entity created and supervised by IDWR to distribute water as required by Idaho law consistent with water rights on record with IDWR;
- is an organized group of water users that hold rights from a common, public water source or water system within the boundary of the district;
- has IDWR-defined boundaries that encompass a public water source or water system (for example, a drainage basin or part thereof, or a common aquifer); and
- is considered an extension of state government to assist IDWR with the distribution of water.
Water districts are needed to manage and administer the use of Idaho’s public “water systems” at a local level. A “water system” includes all rivers, streams, lakes, springs, ground waters, or other sources within the state. IDWR supervises and provides administrative support for water districts to ensure the proper distribution of water consistent with Idaho law.
IDWR is required to create water districts following a court process called an adjudication. Through an adjudication, the Court determines the validity of the water uses or water rights and issues a decree. The Court decree documents the extent and priority of the rights to use water from a water system or source.
Water districts administer water rights from a specified water source or sources. Water districts may administer surface water, groundwater, or both. The order creating or establishing the water district identifies the source or sources to be administered.
Unless excluded under applicable state law, all water rights from the specified water source or sources within the water district boundary are included in the water district. Any new water right permits approved within an existing water district is subsequently included in the district.
For purposes of measurement and/or assessment, IDWR may exclude certain uses such as:
- small domestic or livestock uses less than or equal to 13,000 gallons per day
- in-stream stockwater use
- small irrigation or non-irrigation uses
- water uses that do not require a water right
A water district is the only water-delivery entity specifically authorized and required to administer the delivery of Idaho water from a public water source or water system. The water district delivers and administers water from the public source to individuals who hold valid water rights or to entities that hold valid water rights.
Numerous water-delivery entities are subject to the administration and delivery of water by a water district watermaster. Listed below are common entities that deliver, convey, or provide water to consumers after it has been delivered by a water district watermaster.
- irrigation districts
- irrigation companies
- homeowner associations
- lateral water user organizations
- canal companies
These entities distribute water to patrons or customers through a common conveyance system or systems after the water is diverted from the public water source. For more information on other water-delivery entities, visit the Water Rights page.
Water districts are responsible for proper administration and distribution of the public waters within their designated boundaries.
Water district staff might include an elected watermaster, watermaster assistants, and a treasurer.
A watermaster’s duties include delivering water to users in the district according to the specific elements of the water rights, measuring and reporting the water use, investigating unauthorized water use, and maintaining accurate records of water right ownership.
The treasurer is responsible for managing the district finances.
If a water district chooses to select an advisory committee, the advisory committee assists or advises IDWR and the watermaster in matters pertaining to the distribution of water within the district.
Neither the State of Idaho nor IDWR fund the operation of water districts or water district staff. Water districts are funded through assessments paid by the water users within the district. Each water user is assessed a proportion of the water district’s adopted budget based on the amount of water that was delivered by the watermaster during the past season or seasons.
At the water district annual meeting, water users vote to adopt a budget sufficient for paying the cost of delivering water for the upcoming season.
Certain liabilities and certain property owned by the water district are covered through the State of Idaho’s Risk Management Program. Water districts might be responsible for any deductibles associated with a claim.
Water districts are responsible for providing Workers Compensation Insurance coverage for water district employees.
Idaho has approximately 100 active water districts. For more information, visit the Active Districts tab.