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Voluntary conveyance of the right to receive a water supply from the united states bureau of reclamation - səhifə 8

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CONCLUSION

Under the Reclamation Act, the Secretary of the Interior has the authority to approve the voluntary conveyance of a project right to an M&I customer or for use in environmental mitigation. The main proviso is that such a conveyance must not impair the project’s capacity to service remaining irrigation customers within the project’s boundaries.

 

*878

A party proposing a conveyance must obtain the Secretary’s advance, written permission. The buyer or lessee must make a secured commitment to repay specified project costs, including a share of the costs of construction, operation, and maintenance. The Bureau must also amend the conveyor’s contract, not just by adjusting the financial liability in proportion to the decreased amount of project supply due to that customer, but also by reflecting new congressional mandates (such as those regarding ‘excess’ land) that apply to any amendment of an existing contract.

 

An irrigator’s conveyance of a project right may, under state law, require the approval of the irrigation district in which the irrigator is located. The district may not, however, withhold its approval if failure to approve would be inconsistent with the ‘beneficial use’ of the project right as defined by federal law.

 

The project right the existing customer can convey consists of the right to continue receiving the amount of water the customer has put to beneficial use. That right is subject to reduction during drought or other emergencies, and it may be further diminished by claims the United States (and, under state law, downstream appropriators) may have to the return flow from project irrigation.

 

Because the Reclamation Act establishes no clear policy to the contrary, the Bureau can allow existing customers to retain at least some of the profit realized by the conveyance of project rights.

 

Subject to these conditions, voluntary conveyances to nonirrigation customers would be consistent with the Reclamation Act and would, in a prosaic fashion, help fulfill the prediction of Representative W. Jones in the House debate of June 13, 1902:

As in many of the tales of the Arabian Nights the touch of the magic wand alone is needed to bring release to the beautiful princesses and great nobles from the vilest shapes and conditions, so all that is needed here is the magic touch of air and [water] to bring forth the richest products of the soil and cause the founding of cities, towns, and villages. Only in fairy tale and story is there fitting simile to the wonderful transformation that will occur in arid America.591

   



Footnotes

a

Attorney, Air & Radiation Division, Office of General Counsel, United States Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D.C.; J.D. 1986, Harvard University Law School; B.A. 1975, Princeton University. This Article represents the author’s personal views only. It was not prepared for EPA and is not intended to represent that agency’s policies.

1

LEGISLATIVE REFERENCE SERV., LIBRARY OF CONGRESS, 86TH CONG., 1ST SESS., RECLAMATION—ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND CONTRIBUTIONS 2 (Comm. Print 1959), quoted in 2 WATER AND WATER RIGHTS § 110, at 113 (R. Clark ed. 1967).

2

Reclamation Act of 1902, ch. 1093, 32 Stat. 388 (codified as amended in scattered sections of 43 U.S.C.).

3

Under the 1902 Reclamation Act, the Bureau operated in 16 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. § 1, 32 Stat. 388, 388. Congress later extended the Bureau’s jurisdiction to include Texas (Act of June 12, 1906, Pub. L. No. 59-225, 34 Stat. 259, 259) and Hawaii (Act of July 15, 1955, Pub. L. No. 69-162, 69 Stat. 352, 357).

4

1 BUREAU OF RECLAMATION, U.S. DEP’T OF THE INTERIOR, SUMMARY STATISTICS 1-2 (1984) [hereinafter 1984 SUMMARY STATISTICS].

5

See infra notes 12-13 and accompanying text.

6

U.S. DEP’T OF THE INTERIOR, CRITICAL WATER PROBLEMS FACING THE ELEVEN WESTERN STATES 64 (1975) [hereinafter CRITICAL WATER PROBLEMS].

7

43 U.S.C. § 391 (Supp. III 1985).

8

Moynihan, Foreword to B. ANDREWS & M. SANSOME, WHO RUNS THE RIVERS? DAMS AND DECISIONS IN THE NEW WEST 2 (1983).

9

Reclamation Act of 1902, § 1, 32 Stat. 388, 388; see infra text accompanying notes 59-64.

10

See infra notes 65-142 and accompanying text.

11

1984 SUMMARY STATISTICS, supra note 4, at 75 table 12.

12

‘There are few Western streams whose dependable flows are not fully appropriated, mostly for [irrigation].’ Trelease, Changes and Transfers of Water Rights, 13 MIN. L. INST. 507, 508 (1967); see also United States v. Gerlach Live Stock Co., 339 U.S. 725, 750 n.19 (1950) (noting that Idaho’s Boise River and many Colorado waterways, including the South Platte River, have been overappropriated).

13

For example, water developed by a future storage project in California’s Sacramento River Basin could cost $175 to $245 per acre-foot, stated in 1981 dollars. This estimate does not include the cost of distribution. By comparison, in 1980 the Bureau of Reclamation charged $3 per acre-foot (not including distribution costs) for water delivered from storage facilities in the Sacramento Valley to farmers there; the State Water Project charged $21 to $26 per acre-foot for irrigation water delivered to the southern San Joaquin Valley. STATE WATER RESOURCES CONTROL BD. & DEP’T OF WATER RESOURCES, STATE OF CAL., DWR/SWRCB BULLETIN NO. 4, POLICIES AND GOALS FOR CALIFORNIA WATER MANAGEMENT: THE NEXT TWENTY YEARS 40 table 1 (1982).

14

See infra text accompanying notes 56-57 & note 16.

15

The United States Bureau of the Census predicts that the population of the states within the Bureau’s jurisdiction will be 92,096,000 in the year 2000, up 41% from the 1980 total of 65,295,000. This contrasts with a 9.2% projected rate of growth during the same period for the remainder of the nation. Statistics derived from BUREAU OF THE CENSUS, U.S. DEP’T OF COMMERCE, STATISTICAL ABSTRACT OF THE UNITED STATES 1985, at 15 table 14 (1984).

16

U.S. GEN. ACCOUNTING OFFICE, WATER SUPPLY SHOULD NOT BE AN OBSTACLE TO MEETING ENERGY DEVELOPMENT GOALS 13 (1980). For example, ‘[e]nough coal could be mined with 200 acre-feet of water to supply all of the electric needs for all the people in Wyoming. In contrast, the 200 acre-feet would irrigate less than 100 acres of alfalfa, which could feed enough cattle to produce beef for about 175 people annually.’ Id. at 28.

17

The author has coined the phrase ‘project right,’ which is not contained in the Reclamation Act or in the contracts for delivery of water from the Bureau’s projects, to facilitate discussion of the legality of customer-initiated redistribution of project supplies. The term is used as shorthand for the various interests that nonfederal contractors for agricultural water (usually irrigation districts) and their beneficiaries (actual farmers) hold in the overall supply available from a given federal project.

Project rights are created by contracts and are defined partly by contractual provisions and partly by the Reclamation Act and state law. See infra notes 260-489 and accompanying text. These rights have the character of property rights: absent a contractor’s default in repayment, the Bureau cannot take back a project right without due process of law, including appropriate compensation.

The phrase ‘project right’ is not used as a synonym for ‘water right.’ Since the first western settlements, the term ‘water right’ has described the exclusive right to use water appropriated according to state law from any natural waterway and put to beneficial use. In a typical Bureau project, the United States holds the associated water right, insofar as the Bureau has complied with state law in gaining such a right (by filing the appropriate application for regulatory or judicial approval) and insofar as the Bureau has built and operates the storage and diversion facilities. The water right is not held in the name of the contractors and ultimate users, who are not physically responsible for the operation of the federal facilities. Each irrigation district contracting with the Bureau and each farmer receiving water from the district holds a ‘project right,’ which can be visualized as carved out of the Bureau’s water right for the project.


18

See generally ECONOMIC RESEARCH SERV., U.S. DEP’T OF AGRICULTURE, AGRICULTURE INFORMATION BULLETIN NO. 500, FINANCIAL CHARACTERISTICS OF U.S. FARMS, JANUARY 1, 1986 (1986) (report based on the 1985 Farm Costs and Returns Survey). The Agriculture Department uses several different measures of financial health. One is ‘net cash income for the farming operation’ (NCOI), which is the ‘amount of funds generated by the farm business that can be used to pay back principal, expand the farm business, or pay for family consumption or other obligations.’ Id. at 4-5. Depending on the area, 30% to 60% of Western farms (not by acreage) have a negative NCOI. Id. at 34 app. II at 47 table 16.

Another measure of financial health is debt-to-asset ratio. Where a farm has forty cents or more of debt for each dollar of assets, the operation is highly leveraged, likely to have problems with cash flow, and particularly vulnerable to market slumps. Id. at 5. Again, depending on the region, 15% to 33% of farms are highly leveraged. Id. at 34 app. II at 61-64 table 22. The above-cited survey estimates the financial health of all farms in a given region, not just the Bureau’s customers. Id. It is possible that federal contractors are in better shape than their neighbors, whose water is supplied without the subsidy. See infra text accompanying notes 216-25.


19

For example, until recently, a federally managed drain collected runoff from 42,000 acres of irrigated farmland in the San Luis Unit of California’s Central Valley Project (CVP). This drain ultimately emptied into Kesterson Reservoir, part of a wildlife refuge. The Secretary of the Interior ordered the drain closed in June 1986, when selenium in the runoff was recognized to have caused severe deformities in waterfowl that nested in the refuge. Lack of drainage (resulting from absence of disposal) may substantially reduce the productivity and value of the irrigated lands. One proposed solution (involving reverse osmosis) would cost $53 to $160 per acre-foot: The high end is well beyond the farmers’ ability to pay. Speech by Russell Stenzel, Project Engineer, Bechtel National, Inc., to Section on Water, Commonwealth Club (July 24, 1986) (minutes on file with author). Another solution would be a sale of project rights to the State Water Project, which has long sought to obtain some CVP water. R. Wahl, Federal Water Pricing, Agricultural Land Values, and Kesterson Reservoir (1985) (preliminary draft, Office of Policy Analysis, U.S. Dep’t of the Interior) (on file with author).

20

Many factors cause structural change in agriculture, including the rate of adoption of new plant varieties and harvesting technologies, economies of scale, and the ability to obtain credit or take advantage of tax and direct governmental subsidies. See OFFICE OF TECHNOLOGY ASSESSMENT, U.S. CONGRESS, TECHNOLOGY, PUBLIC POLICY, AND THE CHANGING STRUCTURE OF AMERICAN AGRICULTURE 91-118 (1986).

21

The number of small, part-time, and moderate farms (where the categories reflect amounts of gross sales, not land sizes) will decline from 2.1 million in 1982 to a projected total of 1.1 million in 2000, while the number of large and very large farms will increase from approximately 122,000 to 175,000. Id.

These predictions include all farms in the United States, not just those in the Bureau’s service area. The Office of Technology Assessment did not predict change in demand for irrigation supply in the Bureau’s service area.

According to the most recent National Water Assessment, water withdrawal for western irrigation will decline from 173.6 million acre-feet per year in 1985 to 159.3 million acre-feet per year in the year 2000. 1 U.S. WATER RESOURCES COUNCIL, THE NATION’S WATER RESOURCES: 1975-2000, at 36-37 (1978) (estimate derived for Regions 9 through 18, which include some areas outside the Bureau’s jurisdiction). At the same time, overall consumption of agricultural products will increase by 25%. Id.


22

43 U.S.C. §§ 390aa-390zz-1 (1982) (originally enacted as Reclamation Reform Act of 1982, Pub. L. No. 97-293, tit. II, 96, Stat. 1263).

23

Id. § 390jj(a)-(c); see Acreage Limitation: Rules and Regulations; Final Rule, 43 C.F.R. § 426.19 (1985). Neither the statutory nor the regulatory provision, however, expressly establishes a deadline for the adoption of such a plan.

24

On the basis of the Bureau’s own field studies, the United States General Accounting Office concluded that irrigation efficiency (the amount of water actually consumed by crops versus the amount of water applied for irrigation) on project farms was only 44%, but could be improved to 60% or more. This inefficiency results from the irrigators’ choice not to incur the costs of conservation, their inaccurate estimates of crops’ water needs, the uncertainty as to whether conservation would lessen their project rights, and the districts’ rigid delivery schedules. U.S. COMPTROLLER GEN., BETTER FEDERAL COORDINATION NEEDED TO PROMOTE MORE EFFICIENT FARM IRRIGATION 6-9 (1976).

If farmers irrigate more frugally, water that in the past has been lost to unrecoverable groundwater pockets or to the growth of weeds will be available for productive use, either on farms or elsewhere. For example, in 1975, the gross diversion for irrigation in the United States and the Caribbean (almost all of which occurs in the western states) totalled 177.8 million acre-feet (MAF). Of that amount, crops consumed 73.5 MAF (41% of gross diversions). Weeds, evaporation, and percolation into irrecoverable groundwater pockets consumed 23.3 MAF. However, 81 MAF (46% of gross diversions) returned eventually to the natural waterways. U.S. DEP’T OF THE INTERIOR, U.S. DEP’T OF AGRIC. & U.S. ENVTL. PROTECTION AGENCY, IRRIGATION WATER USE AND MANAGEMENT 23 (1979).

On the other hand, conservation programs would also reduce the amount of water that percolates downhill onto neighbors’ fields; the conserving farmer may not have the legal right to convey that portion of the conserved supply. For further discussion, see infra text accompanying notes 292-93.

The Reclamation Reform Act’s mandate to the irrigation districts (and to their members) to conserve project water could constitute an effective incentive for conservation, particularly if combined with administrative permission to sell or lease project rights. For further discussion of the elasticity of demand for the Bureau’s irrigation supply, see infra note 58.


25

See infra notes 65-122 and accompanying text.

26

See 2 C. KINNEY, A TREATISE ON THE LAW OF IRRIGATION §§ 994-1032, at 1760-1847 (1912).

27

Reclamation Act of 1902, § 7, 43 U.S.C. § 421 (1982).

28

Section 8 of the 1902 Reclamation Act provides that nothing in the Act shall interfere with a ‘vested [water] right’ acquired under state law. § 8, 43 U.S.C. § 383. This section has been interpreted, in part, to require the Bureau to respect state law when proceeding under the authority of § 7 of the Reclamation Act to obtain water rights already held by nonfederal parties. See, e.g., Ivanhoe Irrigation Dist. v. McCracken, 357 U.S. 275, 291 (1958) ( ‘If the [water] rights held by the United States are insufficient, then it must acquire those necessary to carry on the project, paying just compensation therefor . . ..’ (citation omitted)).

For Congressional debate about such voluntary or forced conveyances of water rights to federal ownership, see 35 CONG. REC. 6679-80, 6688-92, 6694-95 (1902).

The Reclamation Project Act of 1939, 43 U.S.C. §§ 375a, 387-389, 485-485k (1982) (original version at ch. 418, 53 Stat. 1187), also expressly demonstrates a Congressional understanding of the conveyability of water rights:

The Secretary is further authorized, for the purpose of orderly and economical construction or operation and maintenance of any project, to enter into such contracts for exchange or replacement of water, water rights, . . . or for the adjustment of water rights, as in his judgment are necessary and in the interests of the United States and the project.

43 U.S.C. § 389.

For example, prior to the construction of the Central Valley Project, the Bureau obtained from the State of California some inchoate water rights. More precisely, the State assigned to the United States certain filings (and the associated priorities) before the State Water Board for unappropriated waters. The Bureau also purchased water rights vested in private parties and public corporations. United States v. Gerlach Live Stock Co., 339 U.S. 725, 741 n.15 (1950).


29

See, e.g., Laws and Regulations Relating to the Reclamation of Arid Lands by the United States, 45 Pub. Lands Dec. 385, 405 (1916) (‘[W]here the contract purchaser sells his interest under the contract to another and transfers in writing his credit for payments made by him . . ., the new contract purchaser is the successor in interest of the original contract purchaser and succeeds to the benefits of any payments made by the original contractor on his water-right application.’).

These regulations (put in effect approximately 14 years after the passage of the original Reclamation Act) also provide a procedure for the Bureau to confirm the rights of the buyer. The original contractor is required to include the following language in the conveyance: ‘I, ___, for value received, hereby sell and assign to ___ all my right, title, and interest in and to any credits heretofore paid on water-right application No. ___ for the above-described land, together with all interests possessed by me under said application. [Signature], Assignor. [Signature], Witness.’ The conveyance must be recorded in the county where the lands are situated and in the records of the project manager, who forwards the contract to the Auditor of the Treasury Department for the Interior Department. Id. at 408-09.


30

A judicial determination that Congress ratified the agency’s practice may, however, depend upon evidence that Congress (or the relevant committee) had actual knowledge of that practice. See, e.g., United States v. Beebe, 180 U.S. 343, 354 (1901); United States v. Georgia-Pacific Co., 421 F.2d 92, 102 n.28 (9th Cir. 1970).

31

Act of June 23, 1910, ch. 357, 36 Stat. 592 (current version at 43 U.S.C. § 441 (1982)).

From and after the filing with the Secretary of the Interior or such officer as he may designate of satisfactory proof of residence, improvement, and cultivation for the five years required by [homestead] law, persons who have, or shall make, homestead entries within reclamation projects under the provisions of the Act of June 17, 1902 [Reclamation Act], may assign such entries, or any part thereof, to other persons, and such assignees, upon submitting proof of the reclamation of the lands and upon payment of the changes apportioned against the same as provided in the same law . . ., may receive from the United States a patent for the lands: Provided, That all assignments made under the provisions of this section shall be subject to the limitations, charges, terms, and conditions of the reclamation act.

Id.

32

Anderson, Windfall Gains from Transfer of Water Allotments Within the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, 43 LAND ECON. 266, 269 (1967).

33

The party currently holding the right would not voluntarily convey the right unless the resulting profit would exceed the sum of future benefits from holding the right, plus engineering and legal costs incurred in executing the conveyance. Furthermore, because an irrigator may convey only the right to use that amount of water that was actually consumed in irrigation, see infra text accompanying notes 292-93, the benefits accruing to a potential assignee may need to be significantly greater than those of the assignor.

If a rancher has a water right for the irrigation of streamside land, and 50% of his diversion returns to the stream, an oil company seeking to purchase water has to want it twice as much as the rancher. It has to be able to produce twice as much in the way of benefits in order to make the transfer economical.

Trelease, supra note 12, at 528-29.


34

Bureau of Reclamation officials informed a meeting of the Western Governors Association on February 20, 1986 that the Bureau had developed a draft policy statement designed to ‘make it easier for farmers in the arid west to sell water they get from the government.’ Government Plans to Relax Restrictions on Water Sales, Spokane Chron., March 24, 1986, at A8. The Bureau subsequently decided not to publish a ‘comprehensive policy statement on voluntary exchanges,’ but instead provided the Bureau’s field officials with ‘informal guidance regarding the review of exchange proposals and assistance to potential parties to the transaction.’ Letter from Ken Maxey, Staff Assistant, Office of Assistant Secretary—Water and Science, U.S. Dep’t of the Interior to the author (October 3, 1986) (on file with author). The Bureau also is working with the Western Governors’ Association Task Force on Water Efficiency to further clarify the Bureau’s approach to voluntary conveyance. Id.

35

This provision is ‘common to all contracts, . . . required by law and [is] therefore not subject to negotiation.’ BUREAU OF RECLAMATION, U.S. DEP’T OF THE INTERIOR, RECLAMATION REPAYMENT CONTRACTS: A COMPILATION TOGETHER WITH EXPLANATORY NOTES ON BASIC FEATURES OF SEVERAL TYPES OF CONTRACTS MOST FREQUENTLY ENTERED INTO, reprinted in S. DOC. NO. 92, 88th Cong., 2d Sess. 7 (1964) [hereinafter RECLAMATION REPAYMENT CONTRACTS]. No section of the Reclamation Act expressly requires this contractual provision; on the other hand, the statutory mandate that no water be delivered for irrigation except pursuant to an irrigation contract may necessarily imply this limitation on contractual assignments. See infra notes 209-10 and accompanying text.

An example of this limitation is § 53 of the Repayment Contract Between the United States of America and the A & B Irrigation District, which states: ‘The provisions of this contract shall apply to and bind the successors and assigns of the parties hereto, but no assignment or transfer of this contract, or any part thereof, or any interest therein, shall be valid until approved by the Secretary.’ Repayment Contract Between the United States of America and the A & B Irrigation District § 53 (Feb. 9, 1962) (Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Dep’t of the Interior, Contract No. 14-06-100-2368), reprinted in RECLAMATION REPAYMENT CONTRACTS, supra, at 43; see also, Contract Between the United States and Stockton-East Water District Providing for Project Water Service § 10 (December 19, 1983) (Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Dep’t of the Interior, Contract No. 4-07-20-W0329) (stating that water furnished pursuant to the contract could not be sold or exchanged outside the service area without prior written consent of the Secretary of the Interior or his or her representative).

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