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ARIZONA V. CALIFORNIA, 373 U. S. 546 (1963)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Arizona v. California, 373 U.S. 546 (1963)

Arizona v. California

No. 8, Original

Argued January 8-11, 1962

Restored to calendar for reargument June 4, 1962

Reargued November 13-14, 1962

Decided June 3, 1963

373 U.S. 546


This original suit was brought in this Court by the State of Arizona against the State of California and seven of its public agencies. Later, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and the United States became parties. The basic controversy is over how much water each State has a legal right to use out of the waters of the Colorado River and its tributaries. A Special Master appointed by the Court conducted a lengthy trial and filed a report containing his findings, conclusions and recommended decree, to which various parties took exceptions.


1. In passing the Boulder Canyon Project Act, Congress intended to, and did, create its own comprehensive scheme for the apportionment among California, Arizona, and Nevada of the Lower Basin's share of the mainstream waters of the Colorado River, leaving each State her own tributaries. It decided that a fair division of the first 7,500,000 acre-feet of such mainstream waters would give 4,400,000 acre-feet to California, 2,800,000 to Arizona, and 300,000 to Nevada, and that Arizona and California should each get one-half of any surplus. Congress gave the Secretary of the Interior adequate authority to accomplish this division by giving him power to make contracts for the delivery of water, and by providing that no person could have water without a contract. Pp. 373 U. S. 546-590.

(a) Apportionment among the Lower Basin States of that Basin's Colorado River water is not controlled by the doctrine of equitable apportionment or by the Colorado River Compact. Pp. 373 U. S. 565-567.

(b) No matter what waters the Compact apportioned, the Project Act itself dealt only with water of the mainstream, and reserved to each State the exclusive use of the waters of her own tributaries. Pp. 373 U. S. 567-575. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 373 U. S. 547

(c) The legislative history of the Act, its language, and the scheme established by it for the storage and delivery of water show that Congress intended to provide its own method for a complete apportionment of the Lower Basin's share of the mainstream water among Arizona, California and Nevada; and Congress intended the Secretary of the Interior, through his contracts under § 5, both to carry out the allocation of the waters of the main Colorado River among the Lower Basin States and to decide which users within each State would get water. Pp. 373 U. S. 575-585.

(d) It is the Act and the contracts made by the Secretary of the Interior under § 5, not the law of prior appropriation, that control the apportionment of water among the States, and the Secretary, in choosing between the users within each State and in settling the terms of his contracts, is not required by §§ 14 and 18 of the Act to follow state law. Pp. 373 U. S. 585-586.

(e) Section 8 of the Reclamation Act does not require the United States, in the delivery of water, to follow priorities laid down by state law; and the Secretary is not bound by state law in disposing of water under the Project Act. Pp. 373 U. S. 586-587.

(f) The general saving language of §18 of the Project Act does not bind the Secretary by state law, or nullify the contract power expressly conferred upon him by § 5. Pp. 373 U. S. 587-588.

(g) Congress has put the Secretary of the Interior in charge of a whole network of useful projects constructed by the Federal Government up and down the Colorado River, and it has entrusted him with sufficient power, principally the § 5 contract power, to direct, manage and coordinate their operation. This power must be construed to permit him to allocate and distribute the waters of the mainstream of the Colorado River within the boundaries set down by the Act. Pp. 373 U. S. 588-590.

2. Certain provisions in the Secretary's contracts are sustained, with one exception. Pp. 373 U. S. 590-592.

(a) The Secretary's contracts with Arizona and Nevada are sustained insofar as they provide that any waters diverted by those States out of the mainstream above Lake Mead must be charged to their respective Lower Basin apportionments; but he cannot reduce water deliveries to those States by the amount of their uses from tributaries above Lake Mead, since Congress intended to apportion only the mainstream, leaving to each State her own tributaries. Pp. 373 U. S. 590-591. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 373 U. S. 548

(b) The fact that the Secretary has made a contract directly with the State of Nevada, through her Colorado River Commission, for the delivery of water does not impair the Secretary's power to require Nevada water users, other than the State, to make further contracts. Pp. 373 U. S. 591-592.

3. In case of water shortage, the Secretary is not bound to require a pro rata sharing of shortages. He must follow the standards set out in the Act; but he is free to choose among the recognized methods of apportionment or to devise reasonable methods of his own, since Congress has given him full power to control, manage and operate the Government's Colorado River works and to make contracts for the sale and delivery of water on such terms as are not prohibited by the Act. Pp. 373 U. S. 592-594.

4. With respect to the conflicting claims of Arizona and New Mexico to water in the Gila River, the compromise settlement agreed upon by those States and incorporated in the Master's recommended decree is accepted by this Court. Pp. 373 U. S. 594-595.

5. As to the claims asserted by the United States to waters in the main river and some of its tributaries for use on Indian reser align="justify">5. As to the claims asserted by the United States to waters in the main river and some of its tributaries for use on Indian reser align="justify">5. As to the claims asserted by the United States to waters in the main river and some of its tributaries for use on Indian reservations, national forests, recreational and wildlife areas and other government lands and works, this Court approves the Master's decision as to which claims required adjudication, and it approves the decree he recommended for the government claims he did decide. Pp. 373 U. S. 595-601.

(a) This Court sustains the Master's finding that, when the United States created the Chemehuevi, Cocopall, Yuma, Colorado River, and Fort Mohave Indian Reservations in Arizona, California and Nevada, or added to them, it reserved not only the land, but also the use of enough water from the Colorado River to irrigate the irrigable portions of the reserved lands. Pp. 373 U. S. 595-597.

(1) The doctrine of equitable apportionment should not be used to divide the water between the Indians and the other people in the State of Arizona. P. 373 U. S. 597.

(2) Under its broad powers to regulate navigable waters under the Commerce Clause and to regulate government lands under Art IV, § 3, of the Constitution, the United States had power to reserve water rights for its reservations and its property. Pp. 373 U. S. 597-598.

(3) The reservations of land and water are not invalid, though they were originally set apart by Executive Order. P. 373 U. S. 598. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 373 U. S. 549

(4) The United States reserved the water rights for the Indians, effective as of the time the Indian reservations were created, and these water rights, having vested before the Act became effective in 1929, are "present perfected rights," and, as such, are entitled to priority under the Act. Pp. 373 U. S. 598-600.

(5) This Court sustains the Master's conclusions that enough water was intended to be reserved to satisfy the future, as well as the present, needs of the Indian reservations, and that enough water was reserved to irrigate all the practicably irrigable acreage on the reservations, and also his findings as to the various acreages of irrigable land existing on the different reservations. Pp. 373 U. S. 600-601.

(b) This Court disagrees with the Master's decision to determine the disputed boundaries of the Colorado River Indian Reservation and the Fort Mohave Indian Reservation, since it is not necessary to resolve those disputes here. P. 373 U. S. 601.

(c) This Court agrees with the Master's conclusions that the United States intended to reserve water sufficient for the future requirements of the Lake Mead National Recreational Area, the Havasu Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, and the Gila National Forest. P. 373 U. S. 601.

(d) This Court rejects the claim of the United States that it is entitled to the use, without charge against its consumption, of any waters that would have been wasted but for salvage by the Government on its wildlife preserves. P. 373 U. S. 601.

(e) This Court agrees with the Master that all uses of mainstream water within a State are to be charged against that State's apportionment, which, of course, includes uses by the United States. P. 373 U. S. 601. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 373 U. S. 550

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