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Supreme Court of the United States
October 4, 1982, Argued ; December 13, 1982, Decided
No. 80, Orig.
[*177] [***352] [**542] JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.
This case concerns the proper apportionment between New Mexico and Colorado of the water of an interstate river. The water of the Vermejo River is at present fully appropriated by users in New Mexico. Colorado seeks to divert water for future uses. Invoking this Court's original jurisdiction under Art. III, § 2, of the Constitution, Colorado brought this action for an equitable apportionment of the water of the Vermejo River. A Special Master appointed by the Court recommended that Colorado be permitted a diversion of 4,000 acre-feet per year. The case is before us on New Mexico's exceptions to the Special Master's report.
The Vermejo River is a small, nonnavigable river that originates in the snow belt of the Rocky Mountains in southern Colorado and flows southeasterly into New Mexico for a distance of roughly 55 miles before it joins the Canadian River. The major portion [**543] of the river is located in New Mexico. The Colorado portion consists of three main tributaries that combine to form the Vermejo River proper approximately one mile [****5] below the Colorado-New Mexico border. At present there are no uses of the water of the Vermejo River in Colorado, and no use or diversion has ever been made in Colorado. In New Mexico, by contrast, farmers and industrial users have diverted water from the Vermejo for many years. In 1941 a New Mexico state court issued a decree apportioning the water of the Vermejo River among the various New Mexico users. 2
In 1975, a Colorado corporation, Colorado Fuel and Iron Steel Corp. (C. F. & I.), obtained in Colorado state court a conditional right to divert 75 cubic feet per second from the headwaters of the Vermejo River. 3 C. F. & I. proposed a transmountain diversion of the water to a tributary of the Purgatoire River in Colorado to be used for industrial development and other purposes. Upon learning of this decree, the four principal New Mexico users -- Phelps Dodge Corp. (Phelps Dodge), Kaiser Steel Corp. [****6] (Kaiser Steel), Vermejo Park Corp. (Vermejo Park), and the Vermejo Conservancy District (Conservancy District) -- filed suit in the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, seeking to enjoin any diversion by C. F. & I. that would violate their senior rights. On January 16, 1978, the District Court enjoined C. F. & I. from diverting any water from the Vermejo River in derogation of the senior water rights of New Mexico [*179] users. 4 [****7] [***353] The court found that under the doctrine of prior appropriation, which both New Mexico and Colorado recognize, 5 the New Mexico users were entitled to have their needs fully satisfied because their appropriation was prior in time. C. F. & I. filed a notice of appeal, and the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has stayed its proceedings during the pendency of this case before us.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
459 U.S. 176 *; 103 S. Ct. 539 **; 74 L. Ed. 2d 348 ***; 1982 U.S. LEXIS 1 ****; 51 U.S.L.W. 4045
COLORADO v. NEW MEXICO ET AL.
Subsequent History: [****1] Petition for Rehearing Denied February 22, 1983; Petition for Rehearing Denied August 2, 1984.
Prior History: ON EXCEPTIONS TO REPORT OF SPECIAL MASTER.
Disposition: Remanded for further findings.
diversion, River, users, equitable apportionment, benefits, appropriation, waters, water use, factors, senior, recommended, divert, conservation measure, inefficient, interstate, factual findings, apportioning, conserve, offset, prior appropriation, proposed use, water rights, apportionment, rights
Governments, State & Territorial Governments, Property, Water Rights, Real Property Law, Water Rights, Appropriation Rights, General Overview, Riparian Rights, Civil Procedure, Federal & State Interrelationships, State Sovereign Immunity, State Immunity, Claims By & Against, Property, Federal Common Law, Preliminary Considerations, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Clear & Convincing Proof