Cappaert v. United States
Annotate this Case
426 U.S. 128 (1976)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Cappaert v. United States, 426 U.S. 128 (1976)
Cappaert v. United States
Argued January 12, 1976
Decided June 7, 1976*
426 U.S. 128
Devil's Hole, a deep cavern on federal land in Nevada containing an underground pool inhabited by a unique species of desert fish, was reserved as a national monument by a 1952 Presidential Proclamation issued under the American Antiquities Preservation Act, which authorizes the President to proclaim as national monuments, inter alia, "objects of historic or scientific interest" situated on federal land. In 1968, the Cappaerts, petitioners in No. 74-1107, who own a nearby ranch, began pumping groundwater coming from the same source as the water in Devil's Hole, thereby reducing the water level in Devil's Hole and endangering its fish. Subsequently, the Cappaerts applied to the Nevada State Engineer for permits to change the use of water from several of their wells. Although the United States was not made a party to that proceeding, the National Park Service filed a protest, seeking either a denial of the application or a postponement of a decision until it could be determined whether the pumping of the Cappaerts' wells should be limited to prevent lowering of the water in Devil's Hole. The State Engineer overruled the protest and granted the permits. The United States then filed suit in the District Court seeking to limit the Cappaerts' pumping of their wells. The District Court permanently enjoined pumping that would lower the water below a certain level necessary to preserve the fish, holding that, in establishing Devil's Hole as a national monument, the President reserved appurtenant, unappropriated waters necessary to the purpose of the reservation, including preservation of the pool and its fish, that the federal water rights antedated those of the Cappaerts, and that the United States was not estopped from injunctive relief against the use of water under land exchanged with the Cappaerts. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
Held: As of 1952, when the United States reserved Devil's Hole, it acquired by reservation water rights in unappropriated appurtenant water sufficient to maintain the level of the underground pool to preserve its scientific
value, and thereby implement the Presidential Proclamation. Pp. 426 U. S. 138-147.
(a) When the Federal Government reserves land from the public domain, by implication, it reserves water rights sufficient to accomplish the purposes of the reservation, and here, the 1952 Proclamation expressed an intention to reserve unappropriated water. Pp. 426 U. S. 138-141.
(b) The purpose of reserving Devil's Hole being the preservation of the underground pool, the District Court appropriately tailored its injunction to the minimal need, curtailing pumping only to the extent necessary to preserve a water level adequate to protect the pool's scientific value as the natural habitat of the fish species sought to be preserved. P. 426 U. S. 141.
(c) The American Antiquities Preservation Act authorized the President to reserve the pool in Devil's Hole, since such pool and its rare inhabitants are "objects of historic or scientific interest" within the meaning of that Act. Pp. 426 U. S. 141-142.
(d) Since the "implied reservation of water" doctrine is based on the necessity of water for the purpose of the federal reservation, the United States can protect its water from subsequent diversion, whether the diversion is of surface water or groundwater. Pp. 426 U. S. 142-143.
(e) Since the Desert Land Act of 1877, which provides that patentees of public land acquire only title to land through the patent, and must acquire water rights in nonnavigable water in accordance with state law, does not apply to water rights of federal reserved land, FPC v. Oregon, 349 U. S. 435, determination of such reserved water rights is not governed by state law, but derives from the federal purpose of the reservation, and, thus, the fact that the water rights here reserved apply to nonnavigable, rather than navigable, water is irrelevant. Pp. 426 U. S. 143-146.
(f) That the National Park Service filed a protest to the Cappaerts' pumping permit application in the state administrative proceeding, did not bar the United States, by res judicata or collateral estoppel, from litigating its water rights claim in federal court. The United States was not made a party to the state proceeding, was not in privity with the Cappaerts, and did not assert any federal water rights claims in such proceeding, and thus the issue raised in the District Court was not decided in the state proceedings. Pp. 426 U. S. 146-147.
508 F.2d 313, affirmed.
BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.