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WYOMING v. COLORADO

decided: May 31, 1932.

WYOMING
v.
COLORADO



ON motion to dismiss an original suit brought for the purpose of enforcing a decree in an earlier suit between the two States.

Hughes, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Brandeis, Sutherland, Butler, Stone, Roberts, Cardozo

Author: Van Devanter

[ 286 U.S. Page 495]

 MR. JUSTICE VAN DEVANTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This is a suit brought by the State of Wyoming against the State of Colorado to enforce a decree of this Court (259 U.S. 419, 496; 260 U.S. 1), rendered in an earlier suit between the same States respecting their relative rights to divert and use for irrigation the waters of the Laramie River, a stream rising in Colorado and flowing northward into Wyoming.

In the present bill, shortly described, Wyoming alleges that Colorado is departing from that decree by permitting the diversion and use within her territory of waters of the Laramie in quantities largely in excess of those accorded to her by the decree; that these excessive diversions are preventing Wyoming from receiving and using the amount of water which the decree accorded to her; that Colorado, unless restrained by this Court, will continue to permit such excessive diversions and thereby will largely or entirely deprive Wyoming of the use of the water accorded to her in the decree; that the measuring devices installed by Colorado to measure the waters diverted within her territory do not accurately show the full quantities so diverted; and that Colorado refuses, although duly requested, to permit Wyoming to install other suitable devices or participate in the measurements.

[ 286 U.S. Page 496]

     The bill construes the decree as determining the rights of the two States in the waters of the Laramie by according to Colorado.

1. 18,000 acre feet of water per annum by reason of the Skyline ditch appropriation;

2. 4,250 acre feet of water per annum by reason of certain meadowland appropriations;

3. A relatively small amount of water appropriated prior to 1902 through the Wilson Supply ditch from the headwaters of Deadman Creek, a Colorado tributary of the Laramie; and

4. 15,500 acre feet of water per annum by reason of the Laramie-Poudre tunnel appropriation, making an aggregate of 37,750 acre feet per annum, apart from the Wilson Supply ditch appropriation;

and by according to Wyoming 272,500 acre feet of water per annum by reason of appropriations in that State.

The relief sought is the protection and quieting of Wyoming's rights under the decree; provision for accurately and effectively measuring and recording the quantities of water diverted in Colorado; an injunction restraining Colorado from continuing or making any diversion in excess of the quantities of water accorded to her by the decree -- in the event the injunction in that decree is held to relate only to diversion by reason of the Laramie-Poudre tunnel appropriation; and such other and full relief as may be just and equitable.

Colorado challenges the bill by a motion to dismiss in the nature of a demurrer. The principal grounds of the motion are, (1) that the bill proceeds upon the theory that the prior decree determined, as against Colorado and her water users, the full quantity of water which rightfully may be diverted from the stream within that State, and likewise the quantity which Wyoming and her water users are entitled to receive and use from the stream

[ 286 U.S. Page 497]

     within that State -- all of which, it is insisted in the motion, is refuted by the record, opinion and decree in the prior suit; (2) that the bill shows that the acts complained of are not acts done by Colorado, or under her authority, but acts done by private corporations and individuals not parties to the present suit and with respect to which no relief can be had against Colorado; and (3) that, in any event, the bill fails to show with certainty any violation of the decree or any damage to Wyoming or her water users.

In the bill, Wyoming does take the position that the decree in the earlier suit determines the rights of each State as against the other, including their respective water users, respecting the diversion and use of the waters of the interstate stream -- in other words, that the decree fixes and limits the quantities of water which Colorado, including her water users, is entitled to receive and use within that State and thus withhold from Wyoming, and likewise determines the amount of water which Wyoming, including her water users, is entitled to receive and use within her territory. Counsel for Colorado, recognizing that such is the position taken in the bill, say in their brief: "The principal purpose of the motion to dismiss is to join issue with the contention of the complainant that the whole matter has already been adjudicated by the former decree. The problem so presented is a law question and it is apprehended that this should be determined in limine." And, after indicating Colorado's purpose to answer if so required, they further say: "We insist, however, that the cause will be greatly accelerated and confusion be avoided by determining at the threshold the issues of law tendered by the complainant, and thereupon the issues of fact should be defined, if any, are considered to stand for adjudication after passing upon the construction problem, which is the only substantial controversy

[ 286 U.S. Page 498]

     in the case." Evidently therefore the construction of the decree in the earlier suit is the chief matter in dispute.

That suit was brought by Wyoming against Colorado and two Colorado corporations. The corporations, with Colorado's authority and permission, were proceeding to divert water from the Laramie in Colorado and to conduct it through a proposed tunnel into the valley of the Cache la Poudre in Colorado, there to be used in irrigation. The project was designed to divert from the Laramie 56,000 acre feet per annum at first and 15,000 more later on. The purpose of the suit was to prevent the proposed diversion, and to that end the complaint set forth, among other things, that the doctrine of appropriation for beneficial use, whereby priority in time gives priority in right, was recognized and applied by both Colorado and Wyoming in adjusting conflicting claims to the use of waters of natural streams; that Wyoming and her citizens had been for many years irrigating and thereby making highly productive very large amounts of land along the Laramie and its tributaries in that State through the use of waters appropriated for that purpose from those streams, and expenditures running into millions of dollars had been made in the construction of reservoirs, canals and other appliances for the purpose of so using such waters; that these appropriations and this use had been maintained from a time long prior to the commencement of the Laramie-Poudre tunnel project in Colorado; that the date when that project was commenced was "on or about the first day of December, 1909"; that before that project was commenced Colorado and certain of her citizens had appropriated water from the Laramie in Colorado for the irrigation of lands (meadow lands) in that State adjacent to that stream, but that the total amount of water reasonably and beneficially used upon such lands did not exceed 6,000 acre feet per annum; that "no other appropriations or use of said waters of

[ 286 U.S. Page 499]

     said Laramie River or its tributaries had been made by the State of Colorado or its citizens, or within the said State of Colorado, prior to the appropriations of said waters by your orator and its citizens as herein set forth"; that prior to the commencement of the Laramie-Poudre tunnel project in Colorado, Wyoming and her citizens had appropriated all of the available waters of the Laramie and its tributaries for the actual irrigation of lands in Wyoming aggregating hundreds of thousands of acres and supporting thousands of people; that without the use of the waters so appropriated these lands would be to a large extent valueless and incapable of supporting any considerable population; and that the consummation of the proposed Laramie-Poudre tunnel diversion would deprive Wyoming and her citizens of a very large amount of water to the use of which they were rightly entitled in virtue of their appropriations, and would take from many of their lands much of their value.

The prayer was for an injunction preventing the defendants and each of them from making the proposed ...


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