Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Westlands Water Dist. v. Patterson

ELR Citation: 26 ELR 20471
Nos. No. CV-F-94-5217 OWW, 900 F. Supp. 1304/(E.D. Cal., 08/09/1995)

The court holds that the rights of two California county water districts to water allocations from the Central Valley Project (CVP) are inferior to the preexisting water allocation rights of parties who agreed not to exercise certain vested rights in exchange for substitute water. The districts challenge the Bureau of Reclamation's allocation of water to water users in the CVP area during 1994, a short-water year, alleging that the Bureau breached its contractual obligations with the districts. The court first holds that the districts' request for voluntary dismissal of their action without prejudice pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41 is unwarranted. Continued uncertainty for all CVP water users constitutes the type of prejudice that weighs against dismissal without prejudice. The districts have not been diligent in prosecuting the case, and offer no other reason for dismissal than that they have decided not to proceed. The "exchange contractors" and other water users have incurred substantial expense in defending the case. The lawsuit follows prior litigation, and similar legal actions can be anticipated in every short-water year until the disputed water rights are adjudicated. Also, motions for summary judgment by the Bureau, the exchange contractors, and other water users are pending.

The court next holds that the districts' claims regarding water allocations in 1994 are not moot because they are capable of repetition yet evading review. The court further holds that it is inappropriate to continue the summary judgment motions based on the districts being unable to complete discovery. The court finds no factual dispute about the exchange contractors' priority to CVP water. The districts argue that the court should defer to the Ninth Circuit and reject the contention that the exchange contractors have priority to CVP water. In a prior case, however, the court found that the Ninth Circuit did not have before it the CVP contract history, nor did it analyze or resolve all of the contractual interpretation issues involved. The court rejects the districts' argument that a factual dispute precluding summary judgment exists whether the exchange contractors' use of the water has been reasonable. This issue is not part of any claim the districts alleged in the complaint, nor was it raised until the motions for summary judgment. Even assuming, arguendo, that such a claim can be asserted, it is unreasonable, premature, and not ripe for decision. Further, this argument has been waived by the districts' failure to exhaust appropriate administrative remedies and to assert the claim in the complaint, for which no motion to amend has been filed. The court also holds that there is no disputed issue of fact whether pro rata allocation would violate the contracts at issue. There is also no genuine issue as to any material fact concerning the interpretation of the relevant sections of the districts' contracts, and the court finds that the districts' contracts do not expressly forbid the Bureau from subordinating the districts' water rights to the rights of the exchange contractors. The court further holds that in light of the express policies underlying the controlling legislation, the only reasonable interpretation of the term "available water supply" in the apportionment formula in the districts' service contracts is that amount of CVP water determined to be available after satisfying the superior claims of the exchange contractors and other holders of prior rights to CVP water. The exchange contractors portion of water must also be excluded from the meaning of the term "contracts" in one of the district's contracts. Further, the court holds, for purposes of the other district's contracts, that the contractors are "suppliers of water" to, not "customers of the United States." In addition, subjecting the exchange contractors to a pro rata water allocation ignores the exchange contractors historical priority to CVP water and would violate the contracts of other water users. Also, the districts' contracts do not unambiguously require that the exchange contractors receive pro rata allocation along with the districts; to the contrary, the contracts unambiguously respect the exchange contractors' priority to CVP water.

A decision in a related case is published at 24 ELR 20530.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Gregory K. Wilkinson
Best, Best & Krieger
400 Mission Sq.
3750 University Ave., Riverside CA 92502
(909) 686-1450

Counsel for Defendants
Thomas W. Birmingham
Kronick, Moskovitz, Tiedemann & Girard
400 Capitol Mall, 27th Fl., Sacramento CA 95814
(916) 321-4500