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Once you read the  1980 US Supreme Court decision below, you might understand why the farmers think they have an equitable water right held in trust by the Imperial Irrigation District for their benefit, not a mere right to service. While a right to service might be used to explain the condition, it lacks the condition imposed upon a trustee to look out and protect the held rights to the benefit of the ultimate beneficial owner the land of the District. This subtle difference prevents the District from selling or transferring the waters of the District to others.

The following is directly from the US Supreme Court decision in 1980:

It may be true, as the Court of Appeals said, that no individual farm in the District has a permanent right to any specific proportion of the water held in trust by the District. But there is no doubt that, prior to 1929, the District, in exercising its rights as trustee, delivered water to individual farmer beneficiaries without regard to the amount of land under single ownership. It has been doing so ever since. There is no suggestion, by the Court of Appeals or otherwise, that, as a matter of state law and absent the interposition of some federal duty, the District did not have the right and privilege to exercise and use its water right in this manner. Nor has it been suggested that the District, absent some duty or disability imposed by federal law, could have rightfully denied water to individual farmers owning more than 160 acres. Indeed, as a matter of state law, not only did the District's water right entitle it to deliver water to the farms in the District regardless of size, but also the right was equitably owned by the beneficiaries to whom the District was obligated to deliver water.


Rusty Jordan

(1) comment


The Supreme Court further advised, "It may be true, as the Court of Appeals said, that no individual farm in the District has a permanent right to any specific proportion of the water held in trust by the District," but that did not justify ignoring the attributes of state law which imposed no acreage limit on the present perfected rights, or the Project Act deference to present perfected rights, as mandated by the Arizona v. California Decree. The Supreme Court recognized that a California irrigation district is a public agency trustee and confirmed that farmers were beneficiaries of that trust relationship, with equitable rights including an enforceable right to service, regardless of the size of their farms. The Supreme Court also recognized (about six times) that the District was decreed present perfected rights The Supreme Court made no mention of any other beneficiaries of the District or their equitable ownership and enforceable rights to service because no other users had their right to service put at risk.

And, there was no issue of priority among beneficiaries because the 160-acre restriction had nothing to do with sharing a limited water supply.

Bryant is not authority for the proposition that the District is a trustee only for farmers, or that only farmers are equitable beneficiaries with a right to service, or that farmers have priority.

Nor does Bryant hold, discuss, or address at all the erroneous conclusion that irrigating landowners have a constitutionally protected property right protecting them from uses by non-irrigators who also have a right to service.

Bryant only involved protecting farmer beneficiaries from the U.S. Bryant does not describe the District as holding mere legal title to its water rights. The District is described as the decreed holder of present perfected rights.

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