Washington Law Review


Peggy Williams


The U. S. Supreme Court held in California v. United States, 98 S. Ct. 2985 (1978), that under section 8 of the Reclamation Act of 1902, a state may impose on a permit granting water to the United States for a federal reclamation project any conditions which are not inconsistent with federal statutes. The six-three majority opinion, written by Justice Rehnquist, marks a significant departure from prior cases which had severely limited the role of state law in federal reclamation projects. A strongly worded dissent argued that the federal government must follow state law to a limited extent in the acquisition of water rights for a reclamation project, but need not defer to state law at all in the determination of the use or distribution of the water. This note will examine the background, reasoning, and implications of California v. United States, a controversy which involves the New Melones Dam of California's Central Valley Project, and will conclude that despite the majority's gesture toward state control over reclamation water, the Court's failure to define the permissible scope of state control may well result in California's victory being a hollow one.

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