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Maricopa-Stanfield Irrigation & Drainage Dist. v. United States

Citation: 29 ELR 20112
No. 97-16432, 158 F.3d 428/(9th Cir., 10/14/1998)

The court holds that the federal government's reallocation of a Native American tribe's excess water supply to a second tribe did not constitute a taking of irrigation districts' water rights. After the districts entered into subcontracts with the state and federal government for residual water rights in 1983, a 1984 federal statute granted a permanent annual water supply to a Native American tribe and apportioned the excess water to a state water reserve. In 1992, Congress reallocated the excess water to a second tribe. The court first holds that the districts have standing to sue under the 1992 statute. Although Congress did not define the term "contractor" in the 1992 statute, a reasonable construction of the term would include all entities that had contracted for residual water at the time of the act — even those who, like the districts, subsequently amended their subcontracts. Moreover, the districts have alleged an actual injury under the 1992 statute. The 1992 statute creates a higher priority right to a quantity of water more valuable than the districts' lower priority right to the same water. Additionally, the court has the power to redress the injury.

The court next holds that the districts' have no protected property interest in the excess water allocated to the second tribe. No language in the 1984 statute supports the inference that water allocated to the state water reserve would fall to the districts' portions. Whenever Congress has wished to allot water to a specific reserve priority pool or reserve user, it has used clear language to do so. Moreover, the districts' interpretation of the 1984 statute finds no support in the meager policy articulated in the statute, in which the sole stated objective was to secure for the first tribe a permanent water supply. Nor can the districts' interpretation of the 1984 statute be squared with the policies and design of the state water reserve. The court also holds that the districts failed to prove they were entitled to the excess tribe water. The 1984 statute did not divest the Interior Secretary of his discretion to allocate the excess tribe water when it instructed him to allocate that water on an interim basis to the state water reserve. In addition, the districts have not shown that Congress relinquished in unmistakable terms its own power to order the excess tribe water reallocated.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Robert S. Porter
Ellis, Baker & Porter
2111 E. Highland Ave., Ste. 355, Phoenix AZ 85016
(602) 956-8878

Counsel for Defendant
Richard G. Patrick, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
4000 U.S. CtHse.
230 N. First St., Phoenix AZ 85025
(602) 514-7500

Before Goodwin and Ferguson, JJ.