357 U.S. 275 (1958), 122, Ivanhoe Irrigation Dist. v. McCracken

Docket Nº:No. 122
Citation:357 U.S. 275, 78 S.Ct. 1174, 2 L.Ed.2d 1313
Party Name:Ivanhoe Irrigation Dist. v. McCracken
Case Date:June 23, 1958
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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357 U.S. 275 (1958)

78 S.Ct. 1174, 2 L.Ed.2d 1313

Ivanhoe Irrigation Dist.

v.

McCracken

No. 122

United States Supreme Court

June 23, 1958

Argued April 29, 1958

ON APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA

Syllabus

In these cases involving two federal reclamation projects in California, the Supreme Court of California refused to confirm certain contracts entered into between the United States, on the one hand, and two state irrigation districts and a state water agency, on the other hand, because it found them invalid on several grounds. Taking the position that § 8 of the Reclamation Act of 1902 required the application of state law, it held that § 5, providing generally that no right to the use of water shall be sold for lands in excess of 160 acres in single ownership, was inapplicable because in conflict with state law, and that, therefore, the excess lands provisions of the contracts were invalid. It also held that the provisions pursuant to § 9 of the Reclamation Project Act of 1939 for repayment to the United States of part of the funds expended on the construction and operation of reclamation works were invalid on the grounds that no provision was made for repayment of a stated amount within 40 years or for transfer of title to the distribution systems to the respective districts after payment thereof, and that no permanent right to receive water was vested in the respective districts and their members. On review by this Court,

Held: the judgments are reversed. Pp. 277-300.

1. This Court does not have jurisdiction on appeal, because the decisions were based on the construction of a federal statute, not on a holding that federal statutes were unconstitutional. However, treating the papers as petitions for certiorari, 28 U.S.C. § 2103, certiorari is granted. Pp. 279, 289-290.

2. The judgments did not rest upon an adequate state ground, because state law was invoked only by the interpretation the Court gave to § 8 of the Reclamation Act of 1902. P. 290.

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3. Congress did not intend that § 8 of the Reclamation Act of 1902 would, under the application of state law, make the excess lands provision of § 5 inapplicable to the Central Valley Project. Pp. 290-294.

4. Section 5 of the Reclamation Act of 1902 and §46 of the Omnibus Adjustment Act of 1926, providing generally that no right to the use of water shall be sold for lands in excess of 160 acres in single ownership, are not invalid under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, because they do not amount to a taking

of vested property rights in land or irrigation district water without just compensation and they do not deny equal protection of the laws by discriminating unjustly between small and large landowners. Pp. 29297.

5. In view of the rations and provisions incorporated in the amendments contained in the Act of July 2, 1956, there is no room for objection to the contracts on the ground that they infer that the water users are not entitled to water rights beyond the 40-year terms of the contracts, or that the contracts do not make clear that the districts and landowners become free of indebtedness upon repayment of their shares of the cost of the project. Pp. 297-298.

6. The contracts were not invalid because of failure to recite a definite sum as being the total amount due for the water supply facilities. P. 298.

7. The contracts were not invalid because of the absence of any provision to the effect that the districts would obtain title to the distribution systems when their obligations therefor had been totally discharged. Pp. 298-300.

47 Cal.2d 597, 681, 695, 699, 306 P.2d 824, 886, 894, 875, reversed.

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CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

These four cases present issues of basic importance to the federal reclamation laws. The Supreme Court of California has refused to confirm certain contracts entered into between two state irrigation districts and a water agency on the one hand, and the United States, on the other,1 finding the contracts invalid on several grounds. Ivanhoe Irrigation District v. All Parties and Persons, 47 Cal.2d 597, 306 P.2d 824; Santa Barbara County Water Agency v. All Persons and Parties, 47 Cal.2d 699, 306 P.2d 875; [78 S.Ct. 1175] Madera Irrigation District v. All Persons, 47 Cal.2d 681, 306 P.2d 886; [78 S.Ct. 1177] Albonico v. Madera Irrigation District, 47 Cal.2d 695, 306 P.2d 894. Specifically involved are parts of two statutory enactments: Section 5 of the Reclamation Act of 1902,2 providing

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generally that no right to the use of water shall be sold for lands in excess of 160 acres in single ownership, and § 9 of the Reclamation Project Act of 1939,3 providing, inter alia, for the repayment to the United States of funds expended on the construction of reclamation works, and authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to make contracts to furnish reclamation water at appropriate rates for irrigation. The opinion of the Supreme Court of California turned on an interpretation of a third provision, § 8 of the Reclamation Act of 1902.4

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That section provides that the Act is not to be construed as interfering with state laws "relating to the control, appropriation, use, or distribution of water used in irrigation." It further provides that, in administering the Act, the Secretary of the Interior "shall proceed in conformity with such laws. . . ." The California court held that this provision required the application of California law, and, finding the provisions of the contracts contrary thereto, it refused confirmation. The water districts and agency involved, joined by the State of California, appealed, and we postponed the question of jurisdiction to the merits. 355 U.S. 803 (1957). We have concluded, for reasons hereinafter set forth, that we have no jurisdiction [78 S.Ct. 1178] over the appeals. Treating the papers as petitions for certiorari, 28 U.S.C. § 2103, we grant certiorari. On the merits, we deem the contracts controlled by federal law, and valid as against the objections made.

I. THE BACKGROUND OF THE LITIGATION

This litigation involves a dispute between landowners, on the one hand, and the combined State and Federal Governments, on the other. As the Attorney General of California points out, there is no clash here between the United States and the State of California. Quite to the contrary, the United States and the various state agencies, with commendable faith and steadfastness to one another, have embarked upon and nearly completed a most complicated joint venture known as the Central Valley Project. There have, at times, been differences, but these are inevitable in the everyday implementation of

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such a giant undertaking. On the whole, the parties have kept the ultimate goal firmly centered in their joint vision.

Central Valley is the largest single undertaking yet embarked upon under the federal reclamation program. It was born in the minds of far-seeing Californians in their endeavor to bring to that State's parched acres a water supply sufficiently permanent to transform them into veritable gardens for the benefit of mankind. Failing in its efforts to finance such a giant undertaking, California, almost a quarter of a century ago, petitioned the United States to join in the enterprise. The Congress approved and adopted the project, pursuant to repeated requests of the State, and thus far has expended nearly half a billion dollars. The total cost is estimated to be as high as a billion dollars.

The saga of this project is fascinating. California has two somewhat parallel ranges of mountains running south from its northern border for two-thirds the length of the State. Known as the Sierra Nevada on the east and the Coast Range on the west, they converge on the north at Mount Shasta, and are joined by the Tehachapi Mountains on the south, thereby forming the Central Valley Basin. The basin extends almost 500 miles between these ranges, from Shasta to Bakersfield, and has an average width of 120 miles, including more than a third of the area of California. The main valley floor, comprising about a third of the basin area, is an alluvial plain some 400 miles long and averaging 45 miles in width. The Sacramento River, with headwaters near Mount Shasta, flows south into San Francisco Bay, draining the northern portion of the basin. The San Joaquin River, which rises above Friant in the south, runs first west, then north, to join the Sacramento River in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, both finding a common outlet to the ocean

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through San Francisco Bay. See United States v. Gerlach Live Stock Co., 339 U.S. 725 (1950).

Rainfall on the valley floor comes during the winter months -- 85% from November to April -- and summers are quite dry. At Red Bluff, just south of Mount Shasta, the average is 23 inches, while south, at Bakersfield, a scant 6 inches fall. The climate is ideal, with a frost-free period of over seven months and a mild winter permitting production of some citrus as well as deciduous fruits and other specialized crops. The absence of rain, however, makes irrigation essential, particularly in the southern region.

In the mountain ranges, precipitation is greater, and the winters more severe. The Northern Sierras average 80 inches of rainfall, and the Southern 35 inches. The Coast Range experiences much less. In the higher recesses of the mountains, precipitation is largely snow, which, when it melts, joins the other runoff of the mountain areas to make up an annual average of 33,000,000 acre-feet of water [78 S.Ct. 1179] coming from the mountain regions. Nature has not regulated the timing of the runoff water, however, and it is estimated that half of the Sierra...

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