The Establishment of Prior Appropriation in Idaho

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The doctrine of prior appropriation is the legal doctrine that governs the use of the state’s water. Based on fundamental principles of beneficial use and first in time is first in right, the doctrine has been ingrained in Idaho law since statehood.1 However, its origins in this state trace back to an even earlier time, when the common law rules of riparian rights dominated water law in the United States, and the doctrine of prior appropriation was relatively unknown. This article addresses the establishment of prior appropriation in Idaho, focusing on the state’s formative years and those pioneering settlers who, out of necessity, initiated the departure from the common law rules of riparian rights

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