California v. United States, No. 77-285

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtREHNQUIST
Citation98 S.Ct. 2985,438 U.S. 645,57 L.Ed.2d 1018
PartiesState of CALIFORNIA et al., Petitioners, v. UNITED STATES
Decision Date03 July 1978
Docket NumberNo. 77-285

438 U.S. 645
98 S.Ct. 2985
57 L.Ed.2d 1018
State of CALIFORNIA et al., Petitioners,

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 77-285.
Argued March 28, 1978.
Decided July 3, 1978.
Syllabus

The United States Bureau of Reclamation applied to the California State Water Resources Control Board for a permit to appropriate water that would be impounded by the New Melones Dam, a unit of the California Central Valley Project. Congress specifically directed that the Dam be constructed and operated pursuant to the Reclamation Act of 1902, which established a program for federal construction and operation of reclamation projects to irrigate arid western land. Section 8 of that Act provides that "nothing in this Act shall be construed as affecting or intended to affect or to in any way interfere with the laws of any State or Territory relating to the control, appropriation, use, or distribution of water used in irrigation, . . . and the Secretary of the Interior in carrying out the provisions of this Act, shall proceed in conformity with such laws . . . ." After lengthy hearings, the Board, having found that unappropriated water was available for the project during certain times of the year, approved the Bureau's applications, but attached 25 conditions to the permit (the most important of which prohibited full impoundment until the Bureau was able to show a specific plan for use of the water) which the Board concluded were necessary to meet California's statutory water appropriation requirements. The United States then brought this action against petitioners (the State, the Board, and its members) seeking a declaratory judgment that the United States may impound whatever unappropriated water is necessary for a federal reclamation project without complying with state law. The District Court held that, as a matter of comity, the United States must apply to the State for an appropriation permit, but that the State must issue the permit without conditions if there is sufficient unappropriated water. The Court of Appeals affirmed, but held that § 8, rather than comity, requires the United States to apply for a permit. Held :

1. Under the clear language of § 8 and in light of its legislative history, a State may impose any condition on "control, appropriation, use or distribution of water" in a federal reclamation project that is not inconsistent with clear congressional directives respecting the project. To the extent that petitioners would be prevented by dicta that may

Page 646

point to a contrary conclusion in Ivanhoe Irrigation District v. McCracken, 357 U.S. 275, 78 S.Ct. 1174, 2 L.Ed.2d 1313; City of Fresno v. California, 372 U.S. 627, 83 S.Ct. 996, 10 L.Ed.2d 28, and Arizona v. California, 373 U.S. 546, 83 S.Ct. 1468, 10 L.Ed.2d 542, from imposing conditions in this case that are not inconsistent with congressional directives authorizing the project in question, those dicta are disavowed. Pp. 653-679.

2. Whether the conditions imposed by the Board in this case are inconsistent with congressional directives as to the New Melones Dam and issues involving the consistency of the conditions remain to be resolved. P. 679.

558 F.2d 1347, reversed and remanded.

Roderick E. Walston, San Francisco, Cal., for petitioners.

Stephen R. Barnett, Washington, D. C., for respondent.

Page 647

Mr. Justice REHNQUIST delivered the opinion of the Court.

The United States seeks to impound 2.4 million acre-feet of water from California's Stanislaus River as part of its Central Valley Project. The California State Water Resources Control Board ruled that the water could not be allocated to the Government under state law unless it agreed to and complied with various conditions dealing with the water's use. The Government then sought a declaratory judgment in the District Court for the Eastern District of California to the effect that the United States can impound whatever unappropriated water is necessary for a federal reclamatio project without complying with state law. The District Court held that, as a matter of comity, the United States must apply to the State for an appropriation permit, but that the State must issue the permit without condition if there is sufficient unappropriated water. 403 F.Supp. 874 (1975). The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed, but held that § 8 of the Reclamation Act of 1902, 32 Stat. 390, as codified, 43 U.S.C. §§ 372, 383, rather than comity, requires the United States to apply for the permit. 558 F.2d 1347 (1977). We granted certiorari to review the decision of the Court of Appeals insofar as it holds that California cannot condition its allocation of water to a federal reclamation project. 434 U.S. 984, 98 S.Ct. 608, 54 L.Ed.2d 477 (1977). We now reverse.

Page 648

I

Principles of comity and federalism, which the District Court and the Court of Appeals referred to and which have received considerable attention in our decisions, are as a legal matter based on the Constitution of the United States, statutes enacted by Congress, and judge-made law. But the situations invoking the application of these principles have contributed importantly to their formation. Just as it has been truly said that the life of the law is not logic but experience, see O. Holmes, The Common Law 1 (1881), so may it be said that the life of the law is not political philosophy but experience.

The very vastness of our territory as a Nation, the different times at which it was acquired and settled, and the varying physiographic and climatic regimes which obtain in its different parts have all but necessitated the recognition of legal distinctions corresponding to these differences. Those who first set foot in North America from ships sailing the tidal estuaries of Virginia did not confront the same problems as those who sailed flat boats down the Ohio River in search of new sites to farm. Those who cleared the forests in the old Northwest Territory faced totally different physiographic problems from those who built sod huts on the Great Plains. The final expansion of our Nation in the 19th century into the arid lands beyond the hundredth meridian of longitude, which had been shown on early maps as the "Great American Desert," brought the participants in that expansion face to face with the necessity for irrigation in a way that no previous territorial expansion had.

In order to correctly ascertain the meaning of the Reclamation Act of 1902, we must recognize the obvious truth that the history of irrigation and reclamation before that date was much fresher in the minds of those then in Congress than it is to us today. "[T]he afternoon of July 23, 1847, was the true date of the beginning of modern irrigation. It was on that afternoon that the first band of Mormon pioneers built a small

Page 649

dam across City Creek near the present site of the Mormon Temple and diverted sufficient water to saturate some 5 acres of exceedingly dry land. Before the day was over they had planted potatoes to preserve the seed." 1 During the subsequent half century, irrigation expanded throughout the arid States of the West, supported usually by private enterprise or the local community.2 By the turn of the century, however, most of the land which could be profitably irrigated by such small-scale projects had been put to use. Pressure mounted on the Federal Government to provide the funding for the massive projects that would be needed to complete the reclamation, culminating in the Reclamation Act of 1902.3

The arid lands were not all susceptible of the same sort of reclamation. The climate and topography of the lands that constituted the "Great American Desert" were quite different from the climate and topography of the Pacific Coast States. As noted in both United States v. Gerlach Live Stock Co., 339 U.S. 725, 70 S.Ct. 955, 94 L.Ed. 1231 (1950), and Ivanhoe Irrigation District v. McCracken, 357 U.S. 275, 78 S.Ct. 1174, 2 L.Ed.2d 1313 (1958), the latter States not only had a more pronounced seasonal variation and precipitation than the intermountain States, but the interior portions of California had climatic advantages which many of the intermountain States did not.

"The prime value in our national economy of the lands of summer drought on the Pacific Coast is as a source of

Page 650

plant products that require mild winters and long growing seasons. Citrus fruits, the less hardy deciduous fruits, fresh vegetables in winter—these are their most important contributions at present. Rainless summers make possible the inexpensive drying of fruits, which puts into the market prunes, raisins, dried peaches, and apricots. In its present relation to American economy in general, the primary technical problem of agriculture in the Pacific coast States is to make increasingly more effective use of the mild winters and the long growing season in the face of the great obstacle presented by the rainless summers. To overcome that obstacle supplementary irrigation is necessary. Hence the key position of water in Pacific Coast agriculture." 4

If the term "cooperative federalism" had been in vogue in 1902, the Reclamation Act of that year would surely have qualified as a leading example of it. In that Act, Congress set forth on a massive program to construct and operate dams, reservoirs, and canals for the reclamation of the arid lands in 17 Western States. Reflective of the "cooperative federalism" which the Act embodied is § 8, whose exact meaning and scope are the critical inquiries in this case:

"[N]othing in this Act shall be construed as affecting or intended to affect or to in any way interfere with the laws of any State or Territory relating to the control, appropriation, use, or distribution of water used in irrigation, or any vested right acquired thereunder, and the Secretary of the Interior, in carrying out the provisions of this Act, shall proceed in conformity with such laws, and nothing herein shall in any way...

To continue reading

Request your trial
169 practice notes
  • Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation v. Adsit, Nos. 79-4887
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • February 22, 1982
    ...28 S.Ct. 207, 52 L.Ed. 340 (1908); Arizona v. California, 373 U.S. 546, 83 S.Ct. 1468, 10 L.Ed.2d 542 (1963), overruled on other grounds, 438 U.S. 645, 98 S.Ct. 2985, 57 L.Ed.2d 1018 (1977). Federal courts have consistently exercised jurisdiction over Indians on reservations, Minnesota v. U......
  • San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Auth. & Westlands Water Dist. v. Jewell, Case No. 1:13–CV–01232–LJO–GSA.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • October 1, 2014
    ...[52 F.Supp.3d 1066]In re Consolidated Salmonid Cases, 791 F.Supp.2d 802, 918 (E.D.Cal.2011) (citing 43 U.S.C. § 383; California v. U.S., 438 U.S. 645, 675, 98 S.Ct. 2985, 57 L.Ed.2d 1018 (1978)). Specifically, Section 8 of the Reclamation Act of 1902 requires Federal Defendants “to proceed ......
  • Karuk Tribe of Northern California v. California Regional Water Quality Control Bd., North Coast Region, No. A124351.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 30, 2010
    ...perhaps emboldened to press for review by the broad construction to state power given this provision in California v. United States (1978) 438 U.S. 645 [57 L.Ed.2d 1018, 98 S.Ct. 2985], which the same attorney who argued both cases claimed was the model for section 27 of the FPA. (See Walst......
  • State Water Resources Control Bd. Cases, No. C044714.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 9, 2006
    ...v. State Water Resources Control Bd., supra, 182 Cal.App.3d at p. 106, 227 Cal.Rptr. 161; see also California v. United States (1978) 438 U.S. 645, 98 S.Ct. 2985, 57 L.Ed.2d 1018 [a state may impose any condition on control, appropriation, use or distribution of water in a federal reclamati......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
168 cases
  • Northern Cheyenne Tribe of Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation v. Adsit, Nos. 79-4887
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • February 22, 1982
    ...28 S.Ct. 207, 52 L.Ed. 340 (1908); Arizona v. California, 373 U.S. 546, 83 S.Ct. 1468, 10 L.Ed.2d 542 (1963), overruled on other grounds, 438 U.S. 645, 98 S.Ct. 2985, 57 L.Ed.2d 1018 (1977). Federal courts have consistently exercised jurisdiction over Indians on reservations, Minnesota v. U......
  • San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Auth. & Westlands Water Dist. v. Jewell, Case No. 1:13–CV–01232–LJO–GSA.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • October 1, 2014
    ...[52 F.Supp.3d 1066]In re Consolidated Salmonid Cases, 791 F.Supp.2d 802, 918 (E.D.Cal.2011) (citing 43 U.S.C. § 383; California v. U.S., 438 U.S. 645, 675, 98 S.Ct. 2985, 57 L.Ed.2d 1018 (1978)). Specifically, Section 8 of the Reclamation Act of 1902 requires Federal Defendants “to proceed ......
  • Karuk Tribe of Northern California v. California Regional Water Quality Control Bd., North Coast Region, No. A124351.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • March 30, 2010
    ...perhaps emboldened to press for review by the broad construction to state power given this provision in California v. United States (1978) 438 U.S. 645 [57 L.Ed.2d 1018, 98 S.Ct. 2985], which the same attorney who argued both cases claimed was the model for section 27 of the FPA. (See Walst......
  • State Water Resources Control Bd. Cases, No. C044714.
    • United States
    • California Court of Appeals
    • February 9, 2006
    ...v. State Water Resources Control Bd., supra, 182 Cal.App.3d at p. 106, 227 Cal.Rptr. 161; see also California v. United States (1978) 438 U.S. 645, 98 S.Ct. 2985, 57 L.Ed.2d 1018 [a state may impose any condition on control, appropriation, use or distribution of water in a federal reclamati......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT