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Bryant v. Yellen

Citation: 10 ELR 20482
No. Nos. 79-421 et al., 447 U.S. 352/14 ERC 1609/(U.S., 06/16/1980) Rev'g Ninth Circuit decision

The Supreme Court rules that the 160-acre limitation on the size of farms receiving water from federal irrigation projects, pursuant to the Omnibus Adjustment Act of 1926, does not apply to certain private farms in California's Imperial Valley. The Court first notes that petitioners have standing to sue since, if they prevail, they will be entitled to purchase excess farm lands in the Imperial Valley at prices far below market value. As to the merits, the Court notes that generally the reclamation laws limit water deliveries from federal projects to 160 acres under single ownership. Section 6 of the Boulder Canyon Project Act of 1928, however, which provides for the sale of water from federal projects to the Imperial Valley, mandates that such water be allocated to satisfy present perfected rights in water. The federal government adhered to the position that Imperial Valley farmers were not bound by the 160-acre limitation until 1964 when the Interior Department repudiated this position and sought to impose the limit. The district court upheld the right of the farmers to receive project water without regard for the 160-acre limitation, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The Supreme Court finds that § 6 of the Project Act precludes application of the limitation. This is consistent with the legislative history and the contemporaneous construction of the statute by the parties. The Court rejects the theory of the Ninth Circuit that the water rights were owned by the Imperial Irrigation District rather than the individual farmers. Finally, the Court remands questions concerning the applicability of acreage limitations to approximately 14,000 acres that were not under irrigation in 1929.

Counsel for Petitioners
Northcutt Ely, Robert F. Pietrowski
600 New Hampshire Ave. NW, Washington DC 20037
(202) 342-0800

Reginal L. Knox Jr.
Horton, Knox, Carter & Foote
Law Bldg., Suite 101, 895 Broadway, El Centro CA 92243
(714) 352-2821

Charles E. Corker
4128 55th Ave. NW, Seattle WA 98105
(206) 523-9264

charles W. Bender, Patrick Lynch, James V. Selna, John F. Daum
O'Melveny & Myers
611 West Sixth St., Los Angeles CA 90017
(213) 553-6700

George Deukmejian, Attorney General; R.H. Connett, Ass't Attorney General; Douglas B. Noble, Deputy Attorney General
3580 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles CA 90010
(213) 736-2132

Counsel for Respondents
Arthur Brunwasser
240 Stockton St., San Francisco CA 94108
(415) 391-2203

Wade H. McCree Jr., Solicitor General; Louis F. Claiborne, Deputy Solicitor General; Mark I. Levy, Ass't to the Solicitor General
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2208

James W. Moorman, Ass't Attorney General; Peter R. Steenland Jr., Raymond N. Zagone, Dirk D. Snel
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2701