The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court's ruling against the Mohave Valley Irrigation & Drainage District in a water rights battle against the Interior Department. At dispute was an allegedly ambiguous contract regarding the western Arizona district's Colorado River water rights.
According to a 1968 contract between the two agencies, the district is entitled to 41,000 acre-feet of water annually from the Colorado River system. But the Interior Department reduced the district's water allotment, saying that landowners within the district who hold present perfected rights (PPRs) were also receiving Colorado River water. Rights to water from the Colorado River system that have existed since June 25, 1929 are considered PPRs by the Supreme Court. Arizona v. California, 376 U.S. 340 (1964).
The water district contends the 1968 contract is ambiguous because it does not address PPRs. However, Interior argued that PPRs were recognized by the Supreme Court in Arizona v California, before the district and Interior entered into the contract. And Interior maintained it can fulfill its contractual obligation if it calculates the district's allotment by subtracting water provided to holders of PPRs located in the District from the amount stated in the contract.
In mid-April, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the contract between the district and Interior was not ambiguous because the contract defines "water delivered" as "all water pumped by the District or by any other person, firm, or Corporation, from wells located within or outside the District for use within the District or from wells located within the District for use outside the District." The contract does not make an exception for water delivered to PPR holders, the court held.
The case is Mohave Valley Irrigation & Drainage District v. Gale A. Norton, No. 99-16927, 2001 Daily Journal D.A.R. 3578.