United States v. District Court in and for Water Division No. 5

PETITIONER: United States
RESPONDENT: District Court in and for Water Division No. 5
LOCATION: Clarence Williams’ House

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)

CITATION: 401 US 527 (1971)
ARGUED: Mar 02, 1971
DECIDED: Mar 24, 1971

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. District Court in and for Water Division No. 5

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 02, 1971 in United States v. District Court in and for Water Division No. 5

Warren E. Burger:

We'll now hear arguments in 812, United States against the District Court of Eagle County of Water Division No. 5.

Mr. Kiechel, you may proceed whenever you’re ready.


Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court.

Under the Colorado Water Rights Determination and Administration Act of 1969, the 70 water districts were replaced with 7 water divisions.

Water Division 5 includes the area drained by the Colorado River and its tributaries, excluding the Gunnison River and this includes the former Water District 37 and Eagle River Watershed.

In February of last year, the Attorney General received by mail a paper signed by the water clerk of the Water Division 5, directed that all persons interested in water applications in said division, supplying a list of water right applications filed in that office.

The paper concluded with the statement that the recipient had until the last day of March, 1970, that was the month thereafter that preceded the notice, to file with the water clerk a verified statement of opposition to any such application.

Similar notices had been received by the Attorney General listing water rights applications filed during each month thereafter in Water Division 5 and in Water Division 4 and 6 as well.

The response to the 1969 -- December 1969 notice, the United States filed a motion to quash, this was denied.

The writ was applied for the Colorado Supreme Court which was denied.

As in the Eagle County case affected by the proceedings in Water Division 5 or Federal Water Rights of two types, property rights acquired in the state law and reserved another rights based on federal law.

Because of its size, Water Division 5 contains a multitude of federal rights to determine, demonstrate their magnitude in nature.

We’ve prepared a map on which has been delineated the boundaries of Water Division 5 and shows the various federal reserve areas within that Division 5 before national forest or parts thereof in Green, the Naval oil shale reserve, black, National Park or part of the Rocky Mount National Park on that side of the divided in Red --

Do you mind waiting when we get in that?


Oh, I’m sorry sir.

Warren E. Burger:

While we’re waiting, will you give some thought to and then perhaps suggest any reason why the Colorado courts will not follow federal law if that’s part of the predicate of your position?


Yes Your Honor.

We are concerned about the opinion of the Colorado Supreme Court to that extent -- in that respect to the extent that the Colorado Supreme Court discussed the question.

They said that the decisions of this Court reviewing Winters v. United States in 1908 which announced the reserved right doctrine, Federal Power of Commission v. Oregon 349, and Arizona v. California in 1963 in 373, were not determinative of the question.

The --

Now, that determination of the Colorado Supreme Court is reviewable here in the instance of the United States?


Yes Your Honor, I believe it is.

So, you do get a review in the Federal Court of Appeals?



Our position is that this is -- it is reviewable and the Supreme Court has held that the decision -- in affect the Supreme Court of Colorado said that when this matter was presented to them, and they were decided on the basis of Colorado law.

And they referred to the Stockman versus Leddy Case which Mr. Justice White referred to in their opinion and said they would have to overrule that decision if they found that there were reserved rights in -- of the United States in the State of Colorado.

Byron R. White:

Well, do you think Leddy purported to say what federal law is?


Well, Leddy --

Byron R. White:

Or just for that under Colorado law --


Leddy relies upon the Enabling Act of Congress, and it -- the --