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United States v. California

ELR Citation: 6 ELR 20120
Nos. No. S-3014, 403 F. Supp. 874/9 ERC 2041/(E.D. Cal., 10/09/1975)

The court grants summary judgment for the United States in its challenge to California State Water Resources Control Board's Decision 1422, which imposed conditions on the federal Bureau of Reclamation's permit for appropriating water to fill the reservoir created by the New Melones Dam. The conditions included a ban on transporting the water for use outside the Stanislaus River basin and restrictions limiting impoundment to less than the reservoir's full capacity in order to save certain whitewater stretches of the river from inundation. An examination of the legislative history and a number of judicial decisions construing §8 of the Reclamation Act of 1902, 43 U.S.C., §383, leads the court to rule that comity requires the federal government, in acquiring water for federal reclamation projects under the Reclamation Act, to comply with the forms of state law, including applying to state water boards for appropriation permits. This requirement serves to notify the state of the scope of the federal project and enables it to determine, according to its laws, whether there is sufficient unappropriated water available. Beyond making such a determination, however, the state functions in a purely ministerial capacity and must issue an appopriation permit to the Bureau of Reclamation whenever unappropriated waters are available. Any attempt by the state board to impose conditions or terms on the permit is beyond the scope of its authority under federal law. While Congress intended to include states and state law in the planning process to ensure federal-state cooperation, it did not intend to abdicae the federal government's responsibility to develop and operate reclamation projects. The United States action is not precluded by the doctrines of equitable estoppel, or res judicata and collateral estoppel. Decision 1422 is declared void insofar as it purports to impose conditions and terms on the control, development or operation by the federal government of the New Melones project.

The full text of this opinion is available from ELR (52 pp. $6.50, ELR Order No. C-1015).

Counsel for Plaintiff
Dwayne Keyes, U.S. Attorney
Richard W. Nichols, Asst. U.S. Attorney
650 Capitol Mall, Rm. 2058
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 449-2331

John H. Germeraad
William H. Burchette
Douglas N. King
Land and Natural Resources Division
Department of Justice
Washington, DC 20530
(202) 739-3575

Counsel for Defendants
Evelle, J. Younger, Attorney General
Carl Boronkay, Asst. Attorney General
Roderick Walston
Dennis D. Smaage
Richard Jacobs, Deputy Attorneys General
6000 State Bldg.
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 557-2620

MacBride, J.