206 U.S. 46 (1907), 3, Kansas v. Colorado

Docket Nº:No. 3, Original
Citation:206 U.S. 46, 27 S.Ct. 655, 51 L.Ed. 956
Party Name:Kansas v. Colorado
Case Date:May 13, 1907
Court:United States Supreme Court

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206 U.S. 46 (1907)

27 S.Ct. 655, 51 L.Ed. 956




No. 3, Original

United States Supreme Court

May 13, 1907

Argued December, 17-20, 1906



Kansas having brought in this Court an original suit to restrain Colorado and certain corporations organized under its laws from diverting the water of the Arkansas River for the irrigation of lands in Colorado, thereby, as alleged, preventing the natural and customary flow of the river into Kansas and through its territory, the United States filed an intervening petition claiming a right to control the waters of the river to aid in the reclamation of arid lands. It was not claimed that the diversion of the waters tended to diminish the navigability of the river.

Held, that:

The government of the United States is one of enumerated powers; that it has no inherent powers of sovereignty; that the enumeration of the powers granted is to be found in the Constitution of the United States, and in that alone; that the manifest purpose of the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution is to put beyond dispute the proposition that all powers not granted are reserved to the people, and that if, in the changes of the years, further powers ought to be possessed by Congress, they must be obtained by a new grant from the people. While Congress has general legislative jurisdiction over the territories, and may control the flow of waters in their streams, it has no power to control a like flow within the limits of a state except to preserve or improve the navigability of the stream; that the full control over those waters is, subject to the exception named, vested in the state. Hence, the intervening petition of the United States is dismissed, without prejudice to any action which it may see fit to take in respect to the use of the water for maintaining or improving the navigability of the river.

The controversy between the parties plaintiff and defendant is one of a justiciable nature. By the Constitution, the entire judicial power of the United States is vested in its courts, specifically included therein being a grant to the Supreme Court of jurisdiction over controversies between two or more states.

In a qualified sense and to a limited extent, the separate states are sovereign and independent, and the relations between them partake something of the nature of international law. This Court in appropriate cases enforces the principles of that law, and in addition, by its decisions of controversies between two or more states, is constructing what may not improperly be called a body of interstate law.

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In a suit brought by a state which recognizes the right of riparian proprietors to the use of flowing waters for purposes of irrigation, subject to the condition of an equitable apportionment, against a state which affirms a public right in flowing waters, it is not unreasonable to enforce against the plaintiff its own local rule.

While from the testimony it is apparent that the diversion of the waters of the Arkansas River by Colorado for purposes of irrigation does diminish the volume of water flowing into Kansas, yet it does not destroy the entire flow. The benefit to Colorado in the reclamation of arid lands has been great, and ought not lightly to be destroyed.

The detriment to Kansas by the diminution of the flow of the water, while substantial, is not so great as to make the appropriation of the part of the water by Colorado an inequitable apportionment between the two states.

While a right to present relief is not proved, and this suit is dismissed, it is dismissed without prejudice to the right of Kansas to initiate new proceedings whenever it shall appear that, through a material increase in the depletion of the waters of the Arkansas River by the defendants, the substantial interests of Kansas are being injured to the extent of destroying the equitable apportionment of benefits between the two states.

On May 20, 1901, pursuant to a resolution passed by the Legislature of Kansas (Kan.Laws 1901, c. 425), and upon leave obtained, the State of Kansas filed its bill in equity in this Court against the State of Colorado. To this bill the defendant demurred. After argument on the demurrer, this Court held that the case ought not to be disposed of on the mere averments of the bill, and therefore overruled the demurrer without prejudice to any question defendant might present. Leave was also given to answer. 185 U.S. 125. In delivering the opinion of the Court, the CHIEF JUSTICE disclosed in the following words the general character of the controversy, and the conclusions arrived at (p. 145):

The gravamen of the bill is that the State of Colorado, acting directly herself as well as through private persons thereto licensed, is depriving and threatening to deprive the State of Kansas and its inhabitants of all the water heretofore accustomed to flow in the Arkansas River through its channel on the surface, and through a subterranean course across the State of Kansas; that this is threatened not only by the impounding and the use of the water at the river's source, but as it flows

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after reaching the river. Injury, it is averred, is being, and would be, thereby inflicted on the State of Kansas as an individual owner, and on all the inhabitants of the state, and especially on the inhabitants of that part of the state lying in the Arkansas Valley. The injury is asserted to be threatened, and as being wrought, in respect of lands located on the banks of the river, lands lying on the line of a subterranean flow, and lands lying some distance from the river, either above or below ground, but dependent on the river for a supply of water. And it is insisted that Colorado, in doing this, is violating the fundamental principle that one must use his own so as not to destroy the legal rights of another.

The State of Kansas appeals to the rule of the common law that owners of lands on the banks of a river are entitled to the continual flow of the stream, and while she concedes that this rule has been modified in the Western states so that flowing water may be appropriated to mining purposes and for the reclamation of arid lands, and the doctrine of prior appropriation obtains, yet she says that that modification has not gone so far as to justify the destruction of the rights of other states and their inhabitants altogether, and that the acts of Congress of 1866 and subsequently, while recognizing the prior appropriation of water as in contravention of the common law rule as to a continuous flow, have not attempted to recognize it as rightful to that extent. In other words, Kansas contends that Colorado cannot absolutely destroy her rights, and seeks some mode of accommodation as between them, while she further insists that she occupies, for reasons given, the position of a prior appropriator herself, if put to that contention as between her and Colorado.

Sitting, as it were, as an international as well as a domestic tribunal, we apply federal law, state law, and international law, as the exigencies of the particular case may demand, and we are unwilling, in this case, to proceed on the mere technical admissions made by the demurrer. Nor do we regard it as necessary, whatever imperfections a close analysis of the pending

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bill may disclose, to compel its amendment at this stage of the litigation. We think proof should be made as to whether Colorado is herself actually threatening to wholly exhaust the flow of the Arkansas River in Kansas; whether what is described in the bill as the "underflow" is a subterranean stream flowing in a known and defined channel, and not merely water percolating through the strata below; whether certain persons, firms, and corporations in Colorado must be made parties hereto; what lands in Kansas are actually situated on the banks of the river, and what, either in Colorado or Kansas, are absolutely dependent on water therefrom; the extent of the watershed or the drainage area of the Arkansas River; the possibilities of the maintenance of a sustained flow through the control of flood waters -- in short, the circumstances a variation in which might induce the court to either grant, modify, or deny the relief sought or any part thereof.

On August 17, 1903, Kansas filed an amended bill, naming as defendants Colorado and quite a number of corporations, who were charged to be engaged in depleting the flow of water in the Arkansas River. Colorado and several of the corporations answered. For reasons which will be apparent from the opinion, the defenses of these corporations will not be considered apart from those of Colorado. On March 21, 1904, the United States, upon leave, filed its petition of intervention. The issue between these several parties having been perfected by replications, a commissioner was appointed to take evidence, and, after that had been taken and abstracts prepared, counsel for the respective parties were heard in argument, [27 S.Ct. 657] and upon the pleadings and testimony, the case was submitted.

In order that the issue between the three principal parties, Kansas, Colorado, and the United States, may be fully disclosed -- although by so doing we prolong considerably this opinion -- we quote abstracts of the pleadings and statements thereof made by the respective counsel. Counsel for Kansas say:

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The bill of complaint alleges that the State of Kansas was admitted into the Union on January 29, 1861, that the State of Colorado was admitted on August 1, 1876, and that the other defendants are corporations organized, chartered, and doing business in the State of Colorado; that the Arkansas River rises in the Rocky mountains, in the State of Colorado, and, flowing in a southeasterly direction for a distance of about 280 miles, crosses the boundary into the State of Kansas; that the river then flows in an easterly and...

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