State of Kansas v. State of Colorado

Citation206 U.S. 46,27 S.Ct. 655,51 L.Ed. 956
Decision Date13 May 1907
Docket NumberO,No. 3,3
PartiesSTATE OF KANSAS, Complainant, v. STATE OF COLORADO et al., Defendants, The United States of America, Intervener. riginal
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

On May 20, 1901, pursuant to a resolution passed by the legislature of Kansas (Kan. Laws 1901, chap. 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, 46 L. ed. 838, 22 Sup. Ct. Rep. 552. 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, L. ed. p. 846, Sup. Ct. Rep. p. 559):

'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 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 pend- ing 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, 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:

'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 southeasterly direction through the state of Kansas for a distance of about 300 miles, then through Oklahoma, Indian territory, and Arkansas, on its way to the sea. Through the state of Kansas the Arkansas valley is a level plain but a few feet above the normal level of the river, and is from 2 to 25 miles in width. Back to the foothills on either side there are bottom lands which are saturated and subirrigated by the underflow from the river, and are fertile and productive almost beyond comparison. The Arkansas river is a meandered stream through the state of Kansas, and under the laws and departmental rules and regulations of the United States it is a navigable river through the state of Kansas, and was, in fact, navigable and navigated from the city of Wichita south to its mouth; and that the complainant is the owner of the bed of the stream between the meandered lines in trust for the people of the state; that the complainant is the owner of two tracts of land bordering upon the river, one at Hutchinson and one at Dodge City, upon which state institutions are maintained,—one as a reform school and the other as a soldiers' home. That when the state of Kansas was admitted into the Union it became the owner, for school purposes, of sections 16 and 36 of each congressional township, of which the complainant still owns many thousand acres, much of which borders on the Arkansas river. That by act of Congress of March 3, 1863 [12 Stat. at L. 772, chap. 98], the complainant became the owner of each odd-numbered section of land in the Arkansas valley and has since conveyed the whole of this land for the purposes specified. That by the year 1868 the land in the Arkansas valley began to be taken by actual settlers, and by the year 1875 practically all the bottom lands in the east or lower half of the valley were entered and settled, and title obtained from the United States or the state of Kansas; and by the year 1882 the west or upper half of the valley was so entered and settled and like titles obtained. By the year 1873 a railroad was built through the entire length of the valley, and immediately after their settlement these bottom lands were extensively cultivated, large crops of agricultural products were raised, towns and cities sprang up, population rapidly increased, and by the year 1883 practically all the bottom lands of the Arkansas valley were in a state of successful and prosperous cultivation; that the waters of the Arkansas river furnished the foundation for this prosperity. These waters furnished a wholesome and ample supply for domestic purposes, for the watering of stock, for power for operating mills and factories, for saturating and subirrigating the bottom lands back to the uplands on either side of the river, so that crops thereon were not only bounteous but practically certain, and in the western portion of the valley these waters were appropriated and used for surface irrigation, to supplant the scanty rainfall in that region. That by reason of these uses of the waters of the Arkansas river, and the almost unvarying water level beneath these bottom lands being near the surface, the lands in the Arkansas valley in the state of Kansas were of great and permanent value to the owners and settlers thereon, and those upon the tax rolls of the state of Kansas yielded a large and increasing revenue to the complainant for state purposes.

'That after the lands in the Arkansas valley had been settled and raised to a high state of cultivation, all the bottom lands in the valley being riparian lands and directly affected by the presence and flow of the river, and after parts of the flow of the river had been used for manufacturing and milling purposes, and after the riparian...

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