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United States v. Walker River Irrigation District

ELR Citation: 51 ELR 20016
Nos. 15-16342, (9th Cir., 01/28/2021)

The Ninth Circuit affirmed in part and vacated in part a district court's dismissal of a county's complaint in long-standing litigation over appropriation of water in the Walker River Basin. The county argued the public interest and maintenance of the public trust required that water flows reach Walker Lake to sustain the fish population and preserve recreational values for its residents. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that the public trust doctrine might factor into future allocations of water, but that using it to reallocate rights already adjudicated under the 1936 Walker Lake decree would constitute a taking requiring just compensation, which it lacked authority to order. The appellate court held that the district court properly dismissed the county's public trust claim to the extent it sought a reallocation of water rights adjudicated under the 1936 decree and settled under the doctrine of prior appropriation, but that it improperly dismissed the claim to the extent the county sought remedies that would not involve reallocation of adjudicated water rights. It therefore affirmed in part and vacated in part the district court's dismissal, and remanded with instructions to consider the county's claim with respect to remedies not involving reallocation.