WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court has refused to revive a challenge to changes in permits for major water reclamation projects in Northern California. The court, without comment, turned away arguments by water users' groups that they should be allowed to challenge the permits in state court even though the federal Bureau of Reclamation refused to waive its immunity. The dispute involves changes in permits for a California state water project and the Central Valley Project operated by the Bureau of Reclamation. The Central Valley Project, the nation's largest water reclamation project, transports water from the Sacramento River valley to the San Joaquin River valley.
In June 1995, the California State Water Resources Control Board approved changes in water rights permits for both projects. The changes were challenged in state court by water users' groups including San Joaquin County, several water districts, and a farm corporation.
The lawsuit against the state board said the permit changes violated California law and existing water rights. But the state board said the case could not be decided without including the Bureau of Reclamation as a defendant because its rights also were at issue. A state judge agreed and dismissed the case after the Bureau refused to waive its immunity from the lawsuit.
A state appeals court upheld the ruling, saying the issue could be decided in a federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Reclamation filed by many of the same water users' groups.
In the appeal acted on today, lawyers for the water users' groups said the state claimed immunity from the federal lawsuit and therefore no court would be able to review the state water board's actions. The federal government's immunity should give way to the water users' due- process rights, the appeal said.
Attorneys for the state water board said the lower court ruling was based on state law, and that the water groups had conceded the Bureau of Reclamation was entitled to immunity from the state lawsuit. The case is San Joaquin County vs. State Water Resources Control Board, 97-721.
Return to the U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water News Homepage