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Colo. River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued January 14, 1976 ; March 24, 1976 1 

No. 74-940


 [*802]  [***489]  [**1239]    MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

 ] The McCarran Amendment, 66 Stat. 560, 43 U.S.C. § 666, provides that "consent is hereby given to join the United States as a defendant in any suit (1) for the adjudication of rights to the use of water of a river system or other source, or (2) for the administration of such  [*803]  rights, where it appears that the United States is the owner of or is in the process of acquiring water rights by appropriation under State law, by purchase, by exchange, or otherwise, and the United States is a necessary party to such suit." The questions presented by this case concern the effect of the McCarran Amendment upon the jurisdiction of the federal district courts under 28 U.S.C. § 1345 over suits for determination of water rights brought by the United States as trustee for certain Indian tribes and as owner of various non-Indian Government claims. 3 

 [****7]  I

 [*804]  [***490]   It is probable that no problem of the Southwest section of the Nation is more critical than that of scarcity of water. As southwestern populations have grown, conflicting claims to this scarce resource have increased. To meet these claims, several Southwestern States have established elaborate procedures for allocation of water and adjudication of conflicting claims to that resource.4 In 1969, Colorado enacted its Water Rights Determination and Administration  [**1240]  Act 5 in an effort to revamp its legal procedures for determining claims to water within the State.

] Under the Colorado Act, the State is divided [****8]  into seven Water Divisions, each Division encompassing one or more entire drainage basins for the larger rivers in Colorado. 6 Adjudication of water claims within each Division occurs on a continuous basis. 7 Each month, Water Referees in each Division rule on applications for water rights filed within the preceding five months or refer those applications to the Water Judge of their Division. 8 Every six months, the Water Judge passes on referred applications and contested decisions by Referees. 9 A State Engineer and engineers for each Division are responsible for the administration and disitribution  [*805]  of the waters of the State according to the determinations in each Division. 10 

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424 U.S. 800 *; 96 S. Ct. 1236 **; 47 L. Ed. 2d 483 ***; 1976 U.S. LEXIS 22 ****; 9 ERC (BNA) 1016



Disposition: The judgment of the intermediate appellate court was reversed, and the district court's judgment dismissing the government's complaint against the water users was affirmed.


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