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  • United States v. New MexicoUnited States v. New Mexico
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United States v. New Mexico

United States Supreme Court
438 U.S. 696 (1978)


The United States (government) (defendant) claimed reserved rights to an instream water flow in the Gila National Forest for aesthetic, environmental, recreational, fishing, and livestock-watering purposes. In asserting its reserved water rights, the government invoked the implied-reservation-of-water-rights doctrine to claim an implied right to the water. The State of New Mexico (plaintiff) initiated a water-rights adjudication proceeding against the government. The state trial court found that the government lacked reserved rights to the instream water flow, and that state law governed the allocation of stock-watering rights. The government appealed. The Supreme Court of New Mexico considered whether the Organic Administration Act of 1897 (OAA) or the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act of 1960 (MUSY) authorized federal reserved rights. The OAA provided that national forests existed “to improve and protect the forest within the boundaries, or for the purpose of securing favorable conditions of water flows, and to furnish a continuous supply of timber.” The MUSY expanded the purposes of national forests to include outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, wildlife preservation, and fishing. The state supreme court concluded that the OAA did not authorize the government’s reserved rights, and that the MUSY did not authorize any rights not provided by the OAA. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Rehnquist, J.)

Dissent (Powell, J.)

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