Home » Case Summaries » 2002 » Central Delta Water Agency v. United States

 
 

Central Delta Water Agency v. United States

 

Topics:

At issue in this case was the operation of the New Melones Unit of the Central Valley Project (Project) by the Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau). The Project “is the largest federal water management project in the United States,”[1] and is located in the Central Valley Basin of California. The New Melones Unit of the project includes the New Melones Dam. The Bureau operates the “New Melones Unit pursuant to federal reclamation statutes as well as under four California water rights permits.”[2] The permits authorized the Bureau to use the water in the New Melones reservoir in a variety of ways. The authorized uses included “power generation, consumptive use . . . and the preservation of fish and wildlife.”[3] One of the water rights permits authorized the Bureau to release water to maintain local fisheries downstream of the dam, and to limit the salinity of the water downstream by complying with a salinity standard.

In an effort to comply with the Central Valley Project Improvement Act,[4] the Bureau decided to divert water from the New Melones Reservoir for fishery habitat restoration. Although the statute did not require the Bureau to divert water from the New Melones Unit, the “Bureau exercised its discretion to divert water from that source.”[5] The New Melones Interim Operations Plan, in operation at the time of this action, was adopted by the Bureau in 1999 and provided for “release of water from the New Melones Reservoir in April, May and October to supplement fishery flows.”[6]

Four plaintiffs–two state agencies (the Central Delta Water Agency (CDWA) and the South Delta Water Agency) and two private parties (R.C. Farms, Inc. and Alexander Hildebrand)–brought suit against the Bureau alleging that the Bureau’s operation of the New Melones Unit would fail to meet the salinity standard and would harm crops that depended on a source of suitable water to meet irrigation needs. The district court granted the Bureau’s motion for summary judgment, finding that all the plaintiffs with the exception of intervenor plaintiff Stockton East Water District lacked standing. In addition, the district court found that the plaintiffs’ claims were precluded. The district court subsequently allowed an interlocutory appeal.

The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of defendant’s motion for summary judgment. The court considered the general principles of standing set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife[7] in finding that the plaintiffs had standing. First, the “plaintiff[s] must have suffered an ‘injury in fact.'”[8] Second, there must be a causal connection between the plaintiffs’ injury and the defendant’s conduct. Third, the relief sought must redress the plaintiffs’ injury. The Ninth Circuit explained that at the summary judgment stage the plaintiff must raise “a genuine question of material fact as to the standing elements.”[9]

Concerning the standing requirements, the Ninth Circuit found that the second and third elements were satisfied because violation of the salinity standard would be traceable to the Bureau’s operation of the release of water and the plaintiffs would be redressed by the Bureau’s compliance with the salinity standard. The court then considered whether the plaintiffs satisfied the first element. With regard to the individual plaintiffs, the court explained that a threatened injury may be sufficient to confer standing and that the focus should be on the injury to the plaintiff not the injury to the environment. The court concluded that the risk of plaintiffs’ crops dying due to the Bureau’s failure to meet the salinity standard was a threat of injury sufficient to confer standing. The court noted that it was not relying on the doctrine of recurring harm. In addition, the court noted that the plaintiffs’ threatened injury was supported by modeling performed by the Bureau, which indicated that the salinity standard would be violated.

Concerning the agency plaintiffs, the Ninth Circuit explained that a public agency has standing if the challenged government action affects the performance of its duties. The court explained that the agency plaintiffs had a duty to provide high quality water for the areas downstream of the New Melones Dam. In finding that the agencies had standing, the court applied the three part associational standing test from Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Commission.[10] In Hunt, the Supreme Court explained that an association has standing if “its members . . . have standing to sue[,] . . . the interests [the agency] seeks to protect are germane to the organization’s purpose[,] . . . [and] neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires” participation of a member of the association.[11] The Ninth Circuit concluded that the first part of the Hunt test was satisfied because the individual plaintiffs in the case had standing. In addition, the court found that the second part of the test was satisfied because the state agencies sought “to protect interests germane to their purposes,”[12] specifically that the agencies’ constituents would have water of acceptable salinity. Finally, the court explained that the third part of the Hunt test was satisfied because the court did not believe that the agencies’ constituents were required to be part of the suit. Thus, the Ninth Circuit found that the state agencies had standing to sue.

Concerning the district court’s finding that prior administrative and judicial proceedings regarding the New Melones Unit barred the plaintiffs’ current action, the Ninth Circuit reversed this finding and noted that it had authority to review the district court’s preclusion ruling. The Ninth Circuit explained that for claim preclusion to apply, the prior action must have involved “the same parties[,] . . . the same claim or cause of action . . . [, and must have ended with] a final judgment on the merits.”[13] The court noted that none of the prior actions that involved these parties involved the same claim or cause of action as the current case. The court explained that a prior action involved the same claim or cause of action when four factors were met, the most important factor being whether the actions arose “out of the same transactional nucleus of facts.”[14] The Ninth Circuit determined that none of the prior actions involved the same transactional nucleus of facts because the prior actions did not involve the New Melones Unit and the current operational plan’s releases of water. Therefore, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s application of claim preclusion to the plaintiffs’ current action.

The Ninth Circuit also found that issue preclusion was inapplicable because the issues in prior actions and the current action were not identical. The prior action involved a challenge to release of water based on a different plan, whereas this action involved a challenge to releases of water pursuant to a plan adopted in 1999. Thus, the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of defendant’s summary judgment motion and remanded the case.

The dissent argued that the CDWA had not demonstrated standing. The dissent contended that the CDWA had a “right to sufficient water supplied to maintain water quality downstream . . . [and] [t]hat that right [had] not been violated, and the government ha[d] no intention of violating it.”[15] Thus, the dissent explained that CDWA’s argument that in the future the government might breach its duty was “insufficient to show that ‘invasion of a legally protected interest’ is more than ‘conjectural’ or hypothetical.'”[16]


[1] Cent. Delta Water Agency v. United States, 306 F.3d 938, 943 (9th Cir. 2002).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Title XXXIV of the Reclamation Projects Authorization and Adjustment Act of 1992, Pub. L. No. 102-575, 106 Stat. 4600, 4706-31. This statute provides that the Project “shall be operated in accordance with all obligations under state and federal law.” Cent. Delta Water Agency, 306 F.3d at 944. In addition, the statute requires the Bureau to develop a program to ensure sustainability of anadramous fish in Central Valley rivers and streams, manage 800,000 acre-feet of Project waters for fish and wildlife habitat restoration, and develop a plan to acquire water. Id. at 945. “In short, the Act demands that the Project implement a significant fish habitat protection program, but that it do so in accordance with the applicable state water use permits.” Id.

[5] Cent. Delta Water Agency, 306 F.3d at 945.

[6] Id.

[7] 504 U.S. 555 (1992).

[8] Cent. Delta Water Agency, 306 F.3d at 946 (quoting Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992)).

[9] Id. at 947 (citing Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env’t, 523 U.S. 83, 104 (1998)).

[10] 432 U.S. 333 (1977).

[11] Cent. Delta Water Agency, 306 F.3d at 951 (quoting Hunt v. Wash. State Apple Adver. Comm’n, 432 U.S. 333, 343 (1977)).

[12] Id.

[13] Id. at 952.

[14] Id. (quoting Fund for Animals v. Lujan, 962 F.2d 1391, 1398 (9th Cir. 1992)).

[15] Id. at 954 (Fernandez, J., dissenting).

[16] Id. (quoting Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 (1992)).

Print this pageEmail this to someoneTweet about this on TwitterShare on Facebook

Comments are closed

Sorry, but you cannot leave a comment for this post.