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California v. United States

Citation: 8 ELR 20593
No. No. 77-285, 438 U.S. 645/11 ERC 1820/(U.S., 07/03/1978) Rev'd

The United States Supreme Court, by a 6-3 margin, concludes that § 8 of the Reclamation Act of 1902 allows a state to impose conditions on the control, appropriation, use, and distribution of water from a federal reclamation project as long as the conditions do not conflict with federal law respecting the project. The Court therefore reverses a Ninth Circuit decision, 7 ELR 20801, which held that although the federal government had to apply, as a matter of comity, to the State of California for an appropriation of water from the New Melones Dam, § 8 prevented California from imposing conditions on the allocation of water to the United States. Looking to prior statutes, and the Reclamation Act's legislative history, the Court determines that Congress intended state water law to control the appropriation and distribution of water from federal reclamation projects. The Court disavows dicta in three prior Supreme Court decisions to the extent that they indicate the contrary. The case is remanded for a determination of whether the conditions imposed by California are inconsistent with congressional directives regarding the New Melones Project.

A dissent contends that prior decisions have firmly established that § 8 does not require the United States to follow distribution priorities laid down by state law. Section 8 deals with acquisition, not distribution, of reclamation project water.

Counsel for Petitioners
Roderick Walston, Dep. Attorney General; Evelle J. Younger, Attorney General; R. H. Connett, Ass't Attorney General; Richard C. Jacobs, Dep. Attorney General
555 Capitol Mall, Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 445-9555

Counsel for Respondent
Stephen R. Barnett, Dep. Solicitor General; Wade H. McCree Jr., Solicitor General; Sanford Sagalkin, Dep. Ass't Attorney General; Edmund B. Clark, Carl Strass
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 739-4037