United States v. District Court for Eagle County,
401 U.S. 520 (1971)

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U.S. Supreme Court

United States v. District Court for Eagle County, 401 U.S. 520 (1971)

United States v. District Court in and for the County of Eagle

No. 87

Argued March 2, 1971

Decided March 24, 1971

401 U.S. 520


This case arises from the attempted joinder pursuant to 43 U.S.C. § 666 of the United States as a defendant in a proceeding in state court for the adjudication of water rights covering the Eagle River system in Colorado. Under § 666(a),

"[c]onsent is 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 rights, where it appears that the United States [owns] or is in the process of acquiring water rights by appropriation under State law, by purchase, by exchange, or otherwise. . . ."

The United States contended that § 666 applies only to water rights that it had acquired under state law, and does not constitute consent to have adjudicated in a state court the Government's reserved water rights arising from withdrawals of land from the public domain. Its objection was overruled by the trial court, and the Colorado Supreme Court denied the Government's motion for a writ of prohibition.

Held: Section 666(a) is an all-inclusive statutory provision that subjects to general adjudication in state proceedings all rights of the United States to water within a particular State's jurisdiction regardless of how they were acquired. Any conflict between adjudicated rights and reserved rights of the United States, if preserved in the state proceeding, can ultimately be reviewed in this Court. Pp. 522-526.

169 Colo. 555, 458 P.2d 160, affirmed.

MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. MR. JUSTICE HARLAN, though joining in the opinion, filed a concurring statement, post, p. 401 U. S. 530.

Page 401 U. S. 521

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