Skip to comments.High Court Rules Against Farmers in Water Dispute
Posted on 06/24/2005 1:18:05 AM PDT by lainie
WASHINGTON Individual farmers may not sue the federal government to enforce water contracts signed by their irrigation districts, the Supreme Court said Thursday in a unanimous ruling that limited landowners' ability to seek compensation for reduced flows.
Two dozen farmers from California's Central Valley wanted the federal government to pay them about $32 million as compensation for water they were supposed to get under a federal contract.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation diverted the water to comply with Endangered Species Act requirements to protect two threatened types of fish.
The federal government argued that its contract with the Westlands Water District allowed lawsuits only by the district not by individual landowners who are its members.
California and the water district agreed, contending that letting farmers sue the government directly could result in a rash of cases and undermine water districts' ability to do business with the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that managed water in the West.
The 1982 Reclamation Reform Act "does not permit a plaintiff to sue the United States alone," Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court.
At issue was a 1963 water contract between the Bureau of Reclamation and Westlands, the nation's largest water district, which encompasses 600,000 acres of crops such as cotton, tomatoes and onions in western Fresno and Kings counties.
In 1993 the Bureau of Reclamation cut Westlands' water allocation by half because of federal requirements to protect the threatened winter-run Chinook salmon and the delta smelt, a fish about the size of a finger. Westlands and some farmers in the water district sued.
Westlands dropped its suit two years later as part of negotiations to establish the California Federal Bay-Delta Program, a project designed to address state water problems.
(Excerpt) Read more at latimes.com ...
Why should the federal government make good on contracts it makes?
Aren't they above the law?
I have not read just the LA Times article not the underlying opinion, so my facts are limited.
Based on what I read, the Westlands Water District had a contract (or a contract-like agreement) with the US Bureau of Reclamation for the water and the DID sue when the allocation was cut in 1993. Westlands then dropped the suit in 1995 as part of negotiations to establish the California Federal Bay - Delta Program. That ended the dispute between the two parties to the contract.
Subsequently, two dozen water district customers (individuals and farming associations) sued the Federal government to cover their crop losses.
Why did they sue only the Federal government?
Who did they have a contract with to supply the lost water? With the Federal government or with the Westlands Water District?
Why didn't they also sue the Westlands Water District for breach of contract?
You can read the whole ruling here:
Orff v. United States, 545 U. S. ___ (2005)
R072; No. 03-1566; 6/23/05. In enacting a provision of the Reclamation Reform Act of 1982, 43 U. S. C. §390uu, Congress did not waive the United States' sovereign immunity from a breach of contract suit brought by petitioners, who purchase water from a local water district that receives its water, pursuant to contract, from the United States Bureau of Reclamation.
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