Reclamation liable for breach of New Melones water contracts, court says

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 5, 2009 -- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has issued a decision holding the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation liable for breach of contract for failure to deliver water from New Melones reservoir to two San Joaquin County water districts from 1999 to 2004...

WASHINGTON, DC, Oct. 5, 2009 -- Roger J. Marzulla of the Washington, D.C. law offices of Marzulla Law LLC today announced that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit has issued a decision holding the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation liable for breach of contract for failure to deliver water from New Melones reservoir to two San Joaquin County water districts from 1999 to 2004. The court stated no opinion whether the government might be liable as well for taking of the water in 1994 and 1995. The plaintiffs in the case are Stockton East Water District and Central San Joaquin Water Conservation District, both located in Stockton, California. The Federal Circuit has remanded the case back to the trial court, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, to determine monetary damages -- estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

"We are pleased that the Federal Circuit held the government to the bargain it made. The court recognized that Reclamation did not have the authority to reallocate water based on changes in law and policy, and that the enactment and implementation of the Central Valley Project Improvement Act, calling for the release of water for fish restoration needs, did not constitute a sovereign act that would otherwise excuse Reclamation's liability for breach of these binding agreements," Roger Marzulla explained.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in Washington, D.C. arose out of Reclamation's failure to deliver irrigation and drinking water to over 300,000 water users in the Central Valley of California from the New Melones reservoir since 1993. According to the water delivery contracts between the United States and the water districts, Reclamation was obligated to deliver 155,000 acre-feet of New Melones water each year to these water users.

The Stockton East Water District provides water to the city of Stockton and water users in the eastern portion of San Joaquin, County, California. The Central San Joaquin Water Conservation District operates and maintains water facilities that convey water to agricultural water users on over 60,000 acres of land in San Joaquin County.

The trial judge dismissed the suit in 2007, upholding three defenses asserted by the United States. The Court of appeals rejected those defenses.

The case is now set to go back to the trial court to determine damages.

Marzulla Law LLC is a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that represents clients in water rights claims involving property rights and contract disputes. For further information about Marzulla Law or this decision call (202) 822-6760, or go to www.marzulla.com.

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