Monday, March 4, 2013

San Luis Unit Food Producers v. U.S.

Mar 1: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 11-16122. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. In this case the Appeals Court affirmed the district court's judgment in favor of the United States Bureau of Reclamation in an action brought by farmers under the Administrative Procedure Act seeking to compel the Bureau to provide irrigation districts with more water.
    The Appeals Court indicates that they are considering whether farmers and farming entities (collectively, Farmers) that irrigate their land using water from the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project -- the nation's largest reclamation project -- may maintain a claim under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) to compel the United States Bureau of Reclamation (the Bureau) to provide the Farmers' irrigation districts with more water than it is currently providing. The Farmers argue that several federal statutes require the Bureau to provide irrigators with sufficient irrigation water to satisfy the Farmers' needs before delivering water to any other party for any other purpose.
    The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Bureau on several grounds, including that the Bureau does not have a statutory duty to release a certain amount of water for irrigation and that, consequently, the Farmers' claims did not satisfy the final agency action requirement of the APA. Although the district court discussed this issue in terms of sovereign immunity, the Appeals Court resolved the case slightly differently.
    The Appeals Court said, "Pursuant to the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Norton v. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), 542 U.S. 55 (2004), we hold that the Bureau is not legally required to take a discrete action to deliver the Farmers'
preferred amount of San Luis Unit water for irrigation before it provides water for other purposes. The Bureau retains the discretion to allocate San Luis water among various parties to satisfy its various obligations. There is no final agency action, nor is there any action that the Bureau has unlawfully withheld. See 5 U.S.C. §§ 704 & 706(1). The Farmers' claims amount to a broad programmatic attack on the way the Bureau generally operates the Central Valley Project [CVP], see SUWA, 542 U.S. at 64, and therefore the Farmers have not established subject matter jurisdiction under the APA, Alvarado v. Table Mountain Rancheria, 509 F.3d 1008, 1019–20 (9th Cir. 2007)."
    In conclusion, the Appeals Court said, "In the end, the Farmers' claims boil down to a broad, programmatic challenge to the Bureau's operation and management of the CVP and, as such, are not cognizable under the APA. Although the Farmers contend that the CVP is designed to promote irrigation over the protection of fish and wildlife, Congress decided otherwise. The Bureau is
tasked with 'operat[ing] the Central Valley Project to meet all obligations under State and Federal law, including but not limited to the Federal Endangered Species Act.' CVPIA § 3406(b) (emphasis added). That is a mandatory goal. The decision of how to achieve it, however, is the Bureau's. None of the statutes identified by the Farmers require that the Bureau deliver the Farmers' preferred amount of water to its irrigation contractors. For this reason, the Farmers' APA claims fail for lack of subject matter jurisdiction."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Water, #Wildlife, #CA9]
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