On Friday afternoon, July 13, 2001, Western Watersheds Project won an order in federal district court in Boise, Idaho which bars any diversion of irrigation water from Otter Creek in central Idaho pending a court hearing in August.
Otter Creek is a tributary of Panther Creek which flows into the Salmon River. It is occupied habitat for bull trout, a species listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. In May of this year WWP and the Committee for Idaho's High Desert entered into a stipulated agreement with the water right holder, rancher Verl Jones of Challis, Idaho, in which Jones agreed not to divert any water this year from Otter Creek. WWP and CIHD had earlier sued Rancher Jones for violation of the Endangered Species Act by dewatering Otter Creek to irrigate pastureland on Morgan Creek thereby killing bull trout and destroying their habitat.
On July 10, 2001 Jones' attorney, Bruce Smith, notified the District Court that Jones planned to divert water anyway from Otter Creek because, as Jones stated in a letter to the Court: "I need the Otter Creek water to keep up with my irrigation in this very dry year."
WWP immediately requested a judicial hearing to rule on a motion for a Temporary Restraining Order preventing any water diversion which would violate the Endangered Species Act. The TRO hearing was held on July 11.
On Friday July 13, Federal District Chief Judge B. Lynn Winmill granted WWP's request and blocked any water diversion from Otter Creek thereby protecting bull trout habitat and establishing the first federal legal intervention in Idaho holding that the Endangered Species Act takes precedence over Idaho state water rights.
WWP and CIHD were represented before Judge Winmill by WWP's legal counsel, Laird Lucas, and the Boise office of the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies.