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United States v. State

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20502
Nos. 25546, 23 P.3d 117/(Idaho, 02/22/2001)

The court affirms a district court decision denying the federal government's claim for reserved water rights in connection with approximately 94 islands distributed along the Snake River within the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge. In order to determine if there is a federal reserved right, there has to be a reservation of land, an act of Congress containing an express reservation of water, and if no express reservation, an implied reservation. The court first holds that the purposes of the reservations at issue in this case do not provide a basis for a federal reserved water right. There is no dispute that the United States reserved islands within the Snake River as part of two wildlife refuges and that the federal government did not expressly reserve water when it reserved the islands. Moreover, the circumstances and the legislative purposes of the reservations do not support the government's claim for a federal implied water right. The principle purpose of the reservations was the creation of sanctuaries to protect migratory birds from hunters and trappers so that they would not become extinct, and this purpose will not be defeated without a reserved water right. Without water there would be no island, but there would be a sanctuary as defined by the Migratory Bird Conservation Act (MBCA). The court next holds that the MBCA's secondary purpose of using the islands to provide isolation for migratory birds does not support an implied federal water right. Reclamation projects created the islands at issue, and the island nature of the reservations was always secondary to and will not trump the primary purposes of reclamation.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (17 pp., ELR Order No. L-347).

Counsel for Appellant
Mark R. Haag
Environment and Natural Resources Division
U.S. Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 514-2000

Counsel for Respondent
Clive Strong, Deputy Attorney General
Attorney General's Office
State House, Boise ID 83720
(208) 334-2400