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Firebaugh Canal Co. v. United States

Citation: 30 ELR 20309
No. No. 95-15300, 203 F.3d 568/(9th Cir., 02/04/2000)

The court affirms a district court decision requiring the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to provide water drainage services for agricultural areas receiving water through the Central Valley Project in California. The court first holds that the plain language of the San Luis Act, which authorized construction of the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project, mandated that the DOI provide necessary drainage services including a main interceptor drain for the unit. The San Luis Act directs that the principal engineering features of the San Luis Unit shall be a dam, a reservoir, and necessary drains. The term "shall" is usually regarded as mandatory, and, here, there is no evidence that Congress misused the term. Therefore, although the DOI was only authorized to construct the San Luis Unit, once it decided to construct the unit, the DOI was required to construct necessary drains. Further, "necessary drains" includes the interceptor drain. San Luis Act § (1)(a)(2) expresses the clear indication that either the state of California or the DOI shall provide a drainage plan prior to construction of the San Luis portion. After California indicated that it would not provide a master drain, the DOI had no choice; provide for the interceptor drain or forego construction of the unit. The statutory language makes clear that if construction of the unit commenced, which it did in 1968, the DOI's discretion was limited to a determination of which lands within the unit need drainage service and how big the interceptor drain must be. Thus, after assuring Congress that the DOI had made provisions to construct the interceptor drain, the DOI did not have the unlimited discretion to determine whether the construction of the drain was necessary at all. Moreover, the interpretation of the San Luis Act § (1)(a)(1) phrase "providing for" as not requiring construction or completion leaves § (1)(a)(1) without meaning by allowing the unit to be constructed without a means of comprehensive drainage.

The court next holds that federal appropriations act riders that required completion of an environmental study for the final discharge point of the interceptor drain before the drain's completion did not implicitly repeal the DOI's duty to provide drainage under the San Luis Act. The riders merely placed a condition on the determination of the final point of discharge, and by no means did it excuse or repeal the DOI's obligation to provide drainage. The court then holds that the district court erred by ordering the DOI to promptly file an application for a discharge permit for the drain. Although the San Luis Act limits the drainage solution to an interceptor drain, the subsequent congressional action in the appropriations acts indicates that the DOI can meet its drainage obligations through means other than the interceptor drain.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
William M. Smiland
Smiland & Khachigian
One Bunker Hill
601 W. 5th St., 7th Fl., Los Angeles CA 90071
(213) 891-1010

Counsel for Defendants
Jeffrey C. Dobbins
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Before Fletcher, J., with Trott, J., dissenting