The United States asks leave to file a bill of complaint against
California and Nevada seeking a declaration of the respective
rights of the parties in the Truckee River, which flows through
part of California into Nevada, terminating in Pyramid Lake. The
complaint states that the United States created a reservation in
1859 for the Paiute Indian Tribe that included Pyramid Lake, and
that the lake level has declined since 1906 due chiefly to upstream
uses and diversions, making it imperative that the Government's
prior right to sufficient water to maintain the lake be judicially
declared. By decree entered in 1944, in United States v. Orr
Water Ditch Co.,
the Government was authorized to divert
Truckee River water for a reclamation project upstream from Pyramid
Lake, and its prior right was declared to sufficient Truckee River
water to irrigate certain bottom land and bench land on the Pyramid
Lake Reservation. The defendant States have made a compact, which
is the subject of bills pending in Congress, respecting their
shares of Truckee River water.
The motion to file the bill of complaint is
denied without prejudice to refiling it if the posture of the
litigation should change in a manner that presents a more
substantial basis for the exercise of original jurisdiction. Pp.
412 U. S.
(a) There being no controversy between California and Nevada,
the dispute is between the United States and two States, over which
the Court has original, but not exclusive, jurisdiction under 28
U.S.C. § 1251(b)(2). P. 412 U. S.
(b) The Court seeks to exercise its original jurisdiction
sparingly, especially where the plaintiff has another adequate
forum in which to settle his claim. P. 412 U. S.
(c) The disputes over the Orr Water Ditch decree and the
existence of prior water rights concerning the Pyramid Lake
Reservation involve competing claims within Nevada, over which the
District Court has jurisdiction. Any possible dispute between the
United States and California respecting Pyramid Lake water rights
is remote, and any dispute with California concerning water
Page 412 U. S. 535
rights in that State can be settled in the lower federal courts
in California. Pp. 412 U. S.
The United States asks leave to file a bill of complaint
pursuant to this Court's original jurisdiction against the States
of California and Nevada seeking a declaration of the respective
rights of the States and of the United States in the Truckee River,
a navigable interstate stream. The Truckee rises in the High
Sierra, flows into Lake Tahoe, through which the California-Nevada
boundary runs, exits on the California side of the Lake, and flows
20 miles before crossing into Nevada. It then
Page 412 U. S. 536
continues another 6 miles, through Reno and beyond, to its
termination in Pyramid Lake, a desert lake 20 miles long and five
miles wide, with no outlet and a water level determined by the
balance or imbalance between inflow and evaporation.
The bill of complaint sought to be filed states that, in 1859,
the United States created a reservation for the Paiute Indian Tribe
that included Pyramid Lake and an extensive area surrounding it.
Allegedly, the United States intended at the time to reserve
sufficient water from the Truckee River to maintain Pyramid Lake
and the lower reaches of the river as a viable fishery on which the
Indians could depend for their subsistence and livelihood. The
level of the Lake, however, is said to have declined some 70 feet
since 1906, due chiefly to upstream uses and diversions which make
it imperative that the prior right of the United States to
sufficient water to maintain Pyramid Lake be judicially declared as
against each of the defendant States.
It appears from the bill of complaint that the United States has
several other interests in the waters of the Truckee River, chief
among which is the right to divert at its Derby Dam, some distance
upstream from Pyramid Lake, large amounts of water from the Truckee
River for transportation and use in connection with the Newlands
Reclamation Project, initiated and completed by the United States
pursuant to the Reclamation Act of 1902, 32 Stat. 388. *
approval for this diversion was
Page 412 U. S. 537
sought by the United States in a suit brought by it in 1913 in
the United States District Court for the District of Nevada.
United States v. Orr Water Ditch Co.,
Equity No. A-3
(1944). The decree entered in this action in 1944 authorized the
United States to divert Truckee River water at Derby Dam for
delivery to the Newlands Project; it also declared the prior right
of the United States to sufficient Truckee River water to irrigate
some 3,130 acres of bottom land and 2,745 acres of bench land on
the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation. App. D to Motion for Leave to
The foremost purpose of the United States in seeking to
institute the present litigation is to perfect a prior water right
against all upstream uses that will maintain Pyramid Lake at its
current level, and so prevent further deterioration of the lake and
the river as a habitat for the native fish that have historically
thrived in the lake and that have provided sustenance for the
The motion for leave to file a bill of complaint is denied. The
States of California and Nevada have entered into a compact with
respect to their respective shares in the Truckee River water, and
that compact is the subject of pending bills in Congress. H.R. 15,
S. 24, 93d Cong., 1st Sess. There is now no controversy between the
two States with respect to the Truckee River. The complaint,
therefore, as the United States concedes, is not one alleging a
case or controversy between two States within the exclusive
jurisdiction of this Court, under 28 U.S.C. § 1251(a), but a
dispute between the United States and two States over which this
Court has original, but not exclusive, jurisdiction under §
Page 412 U. S. 538
We seek to exercise our original jurisdiction sparingly, and are
particularly reluctant to take jurisdiction of a suit where the
plaintiff has another adequate forum in which to settle his claim.
Illinois v. City of Milwaukee, 406 U. S.
(1972); Ohio v. Wyandotte Chemicals Corp.,
401 U. S. 493
(1971); Massachusetts v. Missouri, 308 U. S.
(1939). Here, Nevada disputes the right of the United
States to sufficient water to maintain Pyramid Lake at any
particular level. It also asserts that the United States is bound
by the 1944 Orr Ditch decree to respect the private water rights of
hundreds of landowners who are served by the Newlands Project and
whose rights are dependent upon the right of the United States to
divert Truckee River water, the decree authorizing that diversion,
and a contract with the United States to deliver the water to the
project. This dispute over the Orr Ditch decree and the existence
and extent of the prior water rights of the United States with
respect to the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation is within the
jurisdiction of the District Court. We need not employ our original
jurisdiction to settle competing claims to water within a single
State. This is particularly the case where the individual users of
water in the Newlands Project, who ordinarily would have no right
to intervene in an original action in this Court, New Jersey v.
New York, 345 U. S. 369
345 U. S.
-375 (1953), would have an opportunity to participate
in their own behalf if this litigation goes forward in the District
We recognize that the United States will not be able to join
California as a defendant in a suit in Nevada to perfect Pyramid
Reservation water rights, and that, absent California's voluntary
appearance, a Nevada decree would not bind that State.
Hinderlider v. La Plata Co., 304 U. S.
, 304 U. S. 103
(1938). But these are not determinative considerations. Under the
Page 412 U. S. 539
compact, California and Nevada have agreed upon their respective
shares of Truckee River water. Nevada has also agreed that any
rights to the use of water in Nevada by the United States or its
wards are to be charged against Nevada's share of Truckee water.
For the purposes of dividing the waters of an interstate stream
with another State, Nevada has the right, parens patriae,
to represent all the nonfederal users in its own State insofar as
the share allocated to the other State is concerned. It is
therefore doubtful, at best, that there is now any dispute at all
between California and the United States with respect to the
latter's claim to water rights at Pyramid Lake. New Jersey v.
New York, supra,
at 345 U. S.
-373; Hinderlider v. La Plata Co., supra,
304 U. S. 106
Nebraska v. Wyoming, 295 U. S. 40
295 U. S. 43
(1935); 325 U. S. 325
589, 325 U. S.
-615, 325 U. S. 629
(1945). It is true that upstream or downstream water uses and
priorities are important considerations when the judiciary
equitably apportions an interstate stream, Hinderlider v. La
Plata Co., supra,
at 304 U. S. 102
Nebraska v. Wyoming,
325 U.S. at 325 U. S. 617
Wyoming v. Colorado, 259 U. S. 419
259 U. S. 470
(1922), but the United States would appear to have occasion to
object to upstream diversions in California on the grounds of
interference with its Pyramid Lake water rights only if the compact
between the two States is not approved or Nevada, prior to such
approval, disowns the agreed-upon division of Truckee River water.
In that event, a dispute between the two States may arise, and the
United States would then perhaps have some ground to participate
and assert that California's share must be reduced in order to
accommodate a prior, long-established use by the United States in
the State of Nevada. Cf. Arizona v. California,
373 U. S. 546
(1963); Nebraska v. Wyoming, supra.
Any possible dispute
with California with respect to United States water uses in that
Page 412 U. S. 540
can be settled in the lower federal courts in California, and
the possibility of a ripe controversy between the United States and
California with respect to Pyramid Lake water rights appears too
remote to warrant granting the Government's motion for leave to
file the instant complaint. We deny the motion, but without
prejudice to refiling it should the posture of the litigation
change in a manner that presents a more substantial basis for the
exercise of our original jurisdiction.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS dissents.
* The United States also operates the Washoe Reclamation Project
in Nevada and California, which was established under the Washoe
Project Act of 1956, 70 Stat. 775. The Act provides, inter
for establishing facilities to permit increased releases
of water from Lake Tahoe and restoration of the Pyramid Lake
fishery, 43 U.S.C. § 614c.
In addition to the right claimed for Pyramid Lake, the United
States seeks to have rights decreed for it to the use of waters in
and on national forests within the Truckee River watershed, to
waters reserved as public water holes and hot springs, to the use
of waters in and on public lands where the waters have heretofore
been put to beneficial use on those lands, and to the use of runoff
waters from the Newlands Project for use in a wildlife refuge.