United States v. Gerlach Live Stock Co United States v. Potter United States v. Erreca United States v. James Stevinson United States v. Stevinson United States v. 8212 Securities Co

Decision Date05 June 1950
Docket NumberNos. 4,s. 4
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Ralph S. Boyd, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

[Argument of Counsel from page 726 intentionally omitted] Mr. Edward F. Treadwell, San Francisco, Cal., for respondents.

Mr. Warner W. Cardner, Washington, D.C., for Gill and others as amici curiae, by special leave of Court.

Mr. Justice JACKSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

We are asked to relieve the United States from six awards by the Court of Claims as just compensation for deprivation of riparian rights along the San Joaquin River in California caused by construction of Friant Dam, and its dependent irrigation system, as part of the Central Valley Project.

This is a gigantic undertaking to redistribute principal fresh-water resources of California. Central Valley is a vast basin, stretching over 400 miles on its polar axis and a hundred in width, in the heart of California. Bounded by the Sierra Nevada on the east and by coastal ranges on the west, it consists actually of two separate river valleys which merge in a single pass to the sea at the Golden Gate. Its rich acres, counted in the millions, are deficient in rainfall and must remain generally arid and unfruitful unless artificially watered.

Water resources there are, if they can be captured and distributed over the land. From the highland barricade at the north the Sacramento River flows southerly, while from the Yosemite region at the southeast the San Joaquin River winds northeasterly until the two meet and consort in outlet to the sea through estuaries that connect with San Francisco Bay. These dominating rivers collect tribute from many mountain currents, carry their hoardings past parched plains and thriftlessly dissipate them in the Pacific tides. When it is sought to make these streams yield their wasting treasures to the lands they traverse, men are confronted with a paradox of nature; for the Sacramento, with almost twice the water, is accessible to the least land, whereas about three-fifths of the valley lies in the domain of the less affluent San Joaquin.

To harness these wasting waters, overcome this perversity of nature and make water available where it would be of greatest service, the State of California proposed to re-engineer its natural water distribution. This project was taken over by the United States in 1935 and has since been a federal enterprise. The plan, in broad outline, is to capture and store waters of both rivers and many of their tributaries in their highland basins, in some cases taking advantage of the resulting head for generation of electric energy. Shasta Dam in the north will produce power for use throughout much of the State and will provide a great reservoir to equalize seasonal flows of the Sacramento. A more dramatic feature of the plan is the water storage and irrigation system at the other end of the valley. There the waters of the San Joaquin will be arrested at Friant, where they would take leave of the mountains, and will be diverted north and south through a system of canals and sold to irrigate more than a million acres of land, some as far as 160 miles away. A cost of refreshing this great expanse of semiarid land is that, except for occasional spills, only a dry river bed will cross the plain below the dam. Here, however, surplus waters from the north are utilized, for through a 150-mile canal Sacramento water is to be pumped to the cultivated lands formerly dependent on the San Joaquin.

Both rivers afford navigation—the Sacramento for a considerable distance inland, the San Joaquin practically only at tidewater levels. The plan will have navigation consequences, principally on the Sacramento; but the effects on navigation are economically insignificant as compared with the values realized from redistribution of water benefits.

Such a project inevitably unsettles many advantages long enjoyed in reliance upon the natural order, and it is with deprivation of such benefits that we are here concerned.

Claimants own land parcels riparian to the San Joaquin.1 These are called 'uncontrolled grass lands,' to distinguish them from either crop lands or 'controlled grass lands,' both of which have long been irrigated through controlled systems supplied from the stream. Neither of these latter will be injured by the diversion, for they are to be provided with the replacement water from the Sacramento.

Uncontrolled grass lands involved in the claims are parts of a large riparian area which benefits from the natural seasonal overflow of the stream. Each year, with predictable regularity, the stream swells and submerges and saturates these lowlying lands. They are moistened and enriched by these inundations so that forage and pasturage thrive, as otherwise they cannot. The high stage of the river, while fluctuating in height and variable in arrival, is not a flood in the sense of an abnormal and sudden deluge. The river rises and falls in rhythm with the cycle of seasons, expansion being normal for its time as curtailment is for others, and both are repeated with considerable constancy over the years. It should be noted, however, that claimants' benefit comes only from the very crest of this seasonal stage, which crest must be elevated and borne to their lands on the base of a full river, none of which can be utilized for irrigation above and little of it below them. Their claim of right is, in other words, to enjoy natural, seasonal fluctuation unhindered, which presupposes a peak flow largely unutilized.

The project puts an end to all this. Except at rare intervals, there will be no spill over Friant Dam, the bed of the San Joaquin along claimants' lands will be parched, and their grass lands will be barren. Unlike the supply utilized for nearby crop and 'controlled' lands, the vanishing San Joaquin inundation cannot be replaced with Sacramento water. Claimants have been severally awarded compensation for this taking of their annual inundations, on the theory that, as part of the natural flow, its continuance is a right annexed to their riparian property. 76 F.Supp. 87, 99, 111 Ct.Cl. 1, 89. The principal issues are common to the six cases in which we granted certiorari. 335 U.S. 883, 69 S.Ct. 234, 93 L.Ed. 422.

I Navigation or Reclamation Project?

The Solicitor General contends that this overall project, and each part of it, has been authorized by Congress, under the commerce power, as a measure for control of navigation. Claimants on the other hand urge that although improvement of navigation was one objective of the Central Valley undertaking as a whole, nevertheless construction of the Friant Dam and the consequent taking of San Joaquin water rights had no purpose or effect except for irrigation and reclamation. This, it is claimed, was not only the actual, but the avowed purpose of Congress. On these conflicting assumptions the parties predicate contrary conclusions as to the right to compensation.

In the Rivers and Harbors Act of August 26, 1937, § 2, 50 Stat. 844, 850, and again in the Rivers and Harbors Act of October 17, 1940, 54 Stat. 1198, 1199—1200, Congress said that 'The entire Central Valley project * * * is * * * declared to be for the purposes of improving navigation, regulating the flow of the San Joaquin River and the Sacramento River, controlling floods, providing for storage and for the delivery of the stored waters thereof * * *.' The 1937 Act also provided that 'the said dam and reservoirs shall be used, first, for river regulation, improvement of navigation, and flood control * * *.'

But it also is true, as pointed out by claimants, that in these Acts Congress expressly 'reauthorized'2 a project already initiated by President Roosevelt who, on September 10, 1935, made allotment of funds for construction of Friant Dam and canals under the Federal Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, 49 Stat. 115, 118, § 4, and provided that they 'shall be reimbursable in accordance with the reclamation laws.'3 A finding of feasibility, as required by law,4 was made by the Secretary of the Interior on November 26, 1935, making no reference to navigation, and his recommendation of 'the Central Valley development as a Federal reclamation project' was approved by the President on December 2, 1935.

When it 'reauthorized' the Central Valley undertaking, Congress in the same Act provided that 'the provisions of the reclamation law,5 as amended, shall govern the repayment of expenditures and the construction, operation, and maintenance of the dams, canals, power plants, pumping plants, transmission lines, and incidental works deemed necessary to said entire project, and the Secretary of the Interior may enter into repayment contracts, and other necessary contracts, with State agencies, authorities, associations, persons, and corporations, either public or private, including all agencies with which contracts are authorized under the reclamation law, and may acquire by proceedings in eminent domain, or otherwise, all lands, rights-of-ways, water rights, and other property necessary for said purposes: * * *.'

The Central Valley basin development envisions, in one sense, an integrated undertaking, but also an aggregate of many subsidiary projects, each of which is of first magnitude. It consists of thirty-eight major dams and reservoirs bordering the valley floor and scores of smaller ones in head waters. It contemplates twenty-eight hydropower generating stations. It includes hundreds of miles of main canals, thousands of miles of laterals and drains, electric transmission and feeder lines and substations, and a vast network of structures for the control and use of water on two million acres of land already irrigated, three million acres of...

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