Dugan v. Rank Irrigation District v. Rank

Decision Date15 April 1963
Docket NumberDELANO-EARLIMART,115,Nos. 31,s. 31
Citation10 L.Ed.2d 15,83 S.Ct. 999,372 U.S. 609
PartiesH. P. DUGAN et al., Petitioners, v. Everett G. RANK et al. TheIRRIGATION DISTRICT et al., Petitioners, v. Everett G. RANK et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Archibald Cox, Solicitor Gen., for H. P. Dugan and others, petitioners.

B. Abbott Goldberg, Sacramento, Cal., for Delano-Earlimart Irr. Dist., and others, petitioners.

Claude L. Rowe, Fresno, Cal., for respondents.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This injunction suit, filed in 1947 by water right claimants along the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam, California, and against local officials of the United States Bureau of Reclamation, a number of Irrigation and Utility Districts and, subsequently, against the United States as well, sought to prevent the storing and diverting of water at the dam, which is part of the Central Valley Reclamation Project. 50 Stat. 844, 850 (1937). See United States v. Gerlach Live Stock Co., 339 U.S. 725, 70 S.Ct. 955, 94 L.Ed. 1231 (1950). The defense interposed was that the suit was against the United States and, therefore, beyond the jurisdiction of the courts, it not having consented to be sued. In 1956 the District Court ordered the injunction issued unless the Government constructed a 'physical solution'1 which would afford the landowners a supply of water simulating that of the past. Rank v. Krug, D.C., 142 F.Supp. 1. The Court of Appeals reversed as to the United States, finding that it had not consented to be sued. However, as to the officials, if affirmed on the ground that the United States had neither acquired nor taken the claimed water rights and that the officials were therefore acting beyond their statutory authority. California v. Rank, 9 Cir., 293 F.2d 340 and 9 Cir., 307 F.2d 96. No. 31 is the petition of the local Reclamation Bureau officials, and No. 115 is that of the Irrigation and Utility Districts. Both cases proceed from the same Court of Appeals opinion. The importance of the question to the operation of this vast federal reclamation project led us to grant certiorari. 369 U.S. 836, 82 S.Ct. 865, 7 L.Ed.2d 842 and 370 U.S. 936, 82 S.Ct. 1586, 8 L.Ed.2d 806. We have concluded that the Court of Appeals was correct in dismissing the suit against the United States; that the suit against the petitioning local officials of the Reclamation Bureau is in fact against the United States and they must be dismissed therefrom; that the United States either owned or has acquired or taken the water rights involved in the suit and that any relief to which the respondents may be entitled by reason of such taking is by suit against the United States under the Tucker Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1346. These conclusions lead to a reversal of the judgment insofar as suit was permitted against the United States through Bureau officials.


The Project was authorized by the Congress and undertaken by the Bureau of Reclamation of the Department of the Interior pursuant to the Act of August 26, 1937, 50 Stat. 844, 850. It is generally described in sufficient detail for our purposes in United States v. Gerlach Live Stock Co., supra, and Ivanhoe Irrigation District v. McCracken, 357 U.S. 275, 78 S.Ct. 1174, 2 L.Ed.2d 1313 (1958). See Graham, The Cen- tral Valley Project: Resource Development of a Natural Basin, 38 Cal.L.Rev. 588, 591 (1950), for a description and citation of federal authorizations.

The grand design of the Project was to conserve and put to maximum beneficial use the waters of the Central Valley of California,2 comprising a third of the State's territory, and the bowl of which starts in the northern part of the State and, averaging more than 100 miles in width, extends southward some 450 miles. The northern portion of the bowl is the Sacramento Valley, containing the Sacramento River, and the southern portion is the San Joaquin Valley, containing the San Joaquin River. The Sacramento River rises in the extreme north, runs southerly to the City of Sacramento and then on into San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. The San Joaquin River rises in the Sierra Nevada northeast of Fresno, runs westerly to Mendota and then northwesterly to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta where it joins the Sacramento River. The Sacramento River, because of heavier rainfall in its watershed, has surplus water, but its valley has little available tillable soil, while the San Joaquin is in the contrary situation. An imaginative engineering feat has transported some of the Sacramento surplus to the San Joaquin scarcity and permitted the waters of the latter river to be diverted to new areas for irrigation and other needs. This transportation of Sacramento water is accomplished by pumping water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta into the Delta-Mendota Canal, a lift of some 200 feet. The water then flows by gravity through this canal along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley southerly to Mendota, some 117 miles, where it is dis- charged into the San Joaquin River. The waters of the San Joaquin River are impounded by a dam constructed at Friant, approximately 60 miles upstream from Mendota. Friant Dam stores the water in Millerton Lake from which it is diverted by the Madera Canal on the north to Madera County and the Friant-Kern Canal on the south to the vicinity of Bakersfield for use in those areas for irrigation and other public purposes.

The river bed at Friant is at a level approximately 240 Feet higher than at Mendota, 142 F.Supp. 173, which prevents the Sacramento water from being carried further upstream and replenishing the San Joaquin in the 60-mile area between Mendota and Friant Dam, thereby furnishing Sacramento River water for the entire length of the San Joaquin below Friant Dam. This 60-mile stretch of the San Joaquin—and more particularly that between Friant Dam and Gravelly Ford, 37 miles downstream—is the approximate area involved in this litigation. It has been the subject of cooperative studies by the state, local, and federal governments for many years. Indeed the initial planning of the Project recognized, as indicated by the engineering studies included in the plan, that the water flow on the San Joaquin between Friant Dam and Mendota would be severely diminished. See 18 Op.Cal.Atty.Gen. 31, 33—34 (1951). All of the parties recognized the existence of water rights in the area and the necessity to accommodate or extinguish them. Report No. 3, Calif. Water Project Authority, Definition of Rights to the Waters of the San Joaquin River Proposed for Diversion to Upper San Joaquin Valley, 1—2 (1936). The principal alternative, as shown by the reports of the United States Reclamation Bureau to the Congress and the subsequent appropriations of the Congress, was to purchase or pay for infringement of these rights. As early as 1939 the Government entered into negotiations ultimately culminating in the purchase of water rights or agreements for substitute diversions or periodic releases of water from Friant Dam into the San Joaquin River. Graham, The Central Valley Project: Resource Development of a Natural Basin, supra. As of 1952 the United States had entered into 215 contracts of this nature involving almost 12,000 acres, of which contracts some 100 require the United States to maintain a live stream of water in the river.

However, agreements could not be reached with some of the claimants along this reach of the river, and this suit resulted.


The suit was filed in 1947 and has been both costly and protracted.3 It involves some 325,000 acres of land including a portion of the City of Fresno. See map in 142 F.Supp., at 40. Originally filed in the Superior Court of California, it sought to enjoin local officials of the United States Reclamation Bureau from storing or diverting water to the San Joaquin at Friant Dam or, in the alternative, to obtain a decree of a physical solution of water rights. The action was removed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. The named plaintiffs claimed to represent a class of owners of riparian as well as other types of water rights. In addition to the local officials of the Reclamation Bureau two of the Irrigation Districts receiving diverted water from Millerton Lake were originally made defendants and later the other Irrigation and Utility District defendants were joined.

The complaint challenged the constitutional authority of the United States to operate the Project. A three-judge court was impaneled pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2282, and it decided this issue presented no substantial constitutional question. Rank v. Krug, 90 F.Supp. 773 (D.C.S.D.Cal.1950). This left undecided the question of whether the Secretary of the Interior and Bureau of Reclamation officials had statutory authority to acquire the water rights involved. The issue remained dormant until the Delta-Mendota Canal was completed in 1951, 142 F.Supp., at 45, and the Government began to reduce the flow of water through Friant Dam. By consent, temporary restraining orders were entered controlling the releases covering the years 1951, 1952, and part of 1953. In June of the latter year the United States withdrew its consent with the approval of the Court of Appeals, United States v. United States District Court, 9 Cir., 206 F.2d 303. The District Court then ordered the United States joined as a party on the basis of the McCarran amendment, Act of July 10, 1952, 66 Stat. 560, 43 U.S.C. § 666, infra, n. 5. Friant Dam has, however, been operated by the United States without judicial interference since June 30, 1953.

The District Court announced its opinion in the case on February 7, 1956, 142 F.Supp. 1, and the judgment was entered the next year. It declared the water rights of all of the claimants, the members of the class they claimed to represent and the intervenors, Tranquility...

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