United States v. New Mexico

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

DOCKET NO.: 77-510
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1975-1981)
LOWER COURT: New Mexico Supreme Court

CITATION: 438 US 696 (1978)
ARGUED: Apr 24, 1978 / Apr 25, 1978
DECIDED: Jul 03, 1978

John Undem Carlson -
John U. Carlson - for the Twin Lakes Reservoir & Canal Co., et al., as amici curiae
James W. Moorman - for petitioner
Richard A. Simms -

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. New Mexico

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 24, 1978 in United States v. New Mexico
Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 25, 1978 in United States v. New Mexico

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - July 03, 1978 in United States v. New Mexico

William H. Rehnquist:

In United States against New Mexico, the second of the two opinions which I am announcing, deals with the proper application of a so called "implied-reservation-of-water doctrine."

The Rio Mimbres which furnishes needed water to portions of South-West in Mexico rises in the Gila National Forest near Silver City in that state.

As part of a general stream adjudication, the New Mexico state District Court held that the United States had no reserved right to the use of any water in the Gila National Forest for recreation, aesthetics, wildlife preservation or cattle grazing, although it did have for other purposes.

The United States appealed and the Supreme Court of New Mexico affirmed.

In an opinion filed today with the clerk of the Court, we in turn affirm the Supreme Court of New Mexico.

Although Congress has never expressly reserved any water for use in the Gila National Forest, the Court has previously held that when the President in accordance with the an act of Congress reserved lands from the public domain, there is impliedly reserved any unappropriated and pertinent water, that is necessary to accomplish the purpose of the reservation.

The implied reservation doctrine however extends only to the amount of water necessary to fulfill the purpose of the reservation, no more.

Examination of the Organic Administration Act of 1897 which setup our system of national forests, demonstrates that Congress did not intended to reserve water in the Gila National Forest for aesthetic, recreational, wildlife preservation or stockwatering purposes.

Not only are the purposes of national forests limited in the Act of timber preservation, watershed improvement, but in emphasizing the importance of watershed improvement, Congress evidenced it's concern that as much water as possible reach private state appropriators.

We conclude that in passing the Multiple-Use, Sustained-Yield Act of 1960, Congress did not intend to reserve additional water for use on forest lands previously withdrawn.

Mr. Justice Powell, joined by Mr. Justice Brennan, Mr. Justice White and Mr. Justice Marshall has filed an opinion dissenting in part in this case.

Warren E. Burger:

Thank you, Mr. Justice Rehnquist.