Nebraska v. Wyoming,
325 U.S. 589 (1945)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Nebraska v. Wyoming, 325 U.S. 589 (1945)

Nebraska v. Wyoming

No. 6, Original

Argued March 5, 6, 7, 1945

Decided June 11, 1945

325 U.S. 589


1. In a proceeding within the original jurisdiction of this Court, brought by Nebraska against Wyoming, in which Colorado was impleaded as a defendant and the United States was granted leave to intervene, this Court makes an equitable apportionment between the States of the water of the North Platte River. Pp. 325 U. S. 591, 325 U. S. 610.

2. Colorado and Wyoming having the rule of priority of appropriation, and, that rule being dominant in the Nebraska areas affected, the case is treated as involving appropriation rights in the three States. P. 325 U. S. 599.

3. Since the dependable natural flow of the river during the irrigation season has long been over-appropriated, since the claims of the States to the water of the river are based not only on present uses but on projected additional uses as well, and since the claims to the water exceed the supply, there exists a conflict of interests of that character and dignity which makes the controversy a justiciable one within the original jurisdiction of this Court. Wyoming v. Colorado, 259 U. S. 419, followed. P. 325 U. S. 610.

4. The water rights on which the North Platte Project and the Kendrick Project rest having been obtained in compliance with state law, it is unnecessary to determine what rights to unappropriated water of the river the United States may have. Nor is it important to the decree to be entered in this case that there may be unappropriated water to which the United States may in the future assert rights through the machinery of state law or otherwise. P. 325 U. S. 611.

Assuming arguendo that the United States did own all of the unappropriated water, the appropriations under state law were made to the individual landowners pursuant to the procedure which Congress provided in the Reclamation Act, and the rights so acquired are as definite and complete as if they were obtained by direct cession from the federal government. P. 325 U. S. 615.

5. Allocation of the water rights here in question to the States, who represent their citizens parens patriae in this proceeding, in no wise interferes with the ownership and operation by the United States of its storage and power plants, works, and facilities. P. 325 U. S. 616.

6. The difficulties of drafting and enforcing a decree apportioning the water of the river among the claimant States -- where efforts at settlement have failed; a genuine controversy exists, and the gravity

Page 325 U. S. 590

and importance of the case are apparent -- do not justify refusal by this Court to perform the important function entrusted to it by the Constitution. P. 325 U. S. 616.

7. Equitable apportionment among appropriation States does not require a literal application of the priority rule. P. 325 U. S. 618.

Although priority of appropriation is the guiding principle, other relevant factors include: physical and climatic conditions; the consumptive use of water in the several sections of the river; the character and rate of return flows; the extent of established uses; the availability of storage water; the practical effect of wasteful uses on downstream areas; the damage to upstream areas as compared to the benefits to downstream areas if a limitation is imposed on the former.

8. The decree of equitable apportionment to be entered in this case must deal with conditions as they exist at present and must be based on the dependable flow of the river which is not greater than the average condition which has prevailed since 1930. P. 325 U. S. 620.

9. The decree of equitable apportionment which is entered apportions the natural flow of the river among the three States to the Tri-State Dam in Nebraska but not below it. Pp. 325 U. S. 621, 325 U. S. 654.

10. The United States is not given a separate allocation of water, since the water rights appropriated by the Secretary of the Interior were adjudicated to be in the individual landoners and since the United States as an appropriator of storage water is represented by the Wyoming. P. 325 U. S. 629.

11. Storage water is not included in the apportionment, although it is taken into account in determining each State's equitable share of the natural flow. P. 325 U. S. 639.

12. The Court retains jurisdiction of the suit for the purpose of any order, direction, or modification of the decree, or any supplementary decree, that may at any time be deemed proper in relation to the subject matter of the controversy. P. 325 U. S. 655.

Bill in equity by Nebraska against Wyoming (in which Colorado was impleaded as a defendant and the United States was granted leave to intervene) seeking an equitable apportionment of the water of the North Platte River and an injunction restraining alleged wrongful diversions.

Page 325 U. S. 591

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