Court questions ruling ordering interest payable in water
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday issued an opinion questioning a district court order in the Truckee water case that interest be paid in the form of additional water to Pyramid Lake instead of money.
It sent the latest case in the nearly century-old Truckee/Carson water battle back to district court asking for an explanation of that ruling, but didn’t reject the concept entirely.
“The novel issue in this appeal concerns the (district) court’s acceptance of the concept of interest payable in water,” the opinion states. “The judgment orders the return of water, not money, so the district court ordered interest to be paid in water.”
The core of the case centers on tribal and federal claims that, from 1974-1979, the Truckee/Carson Irrigation District took more water for Fallon area farmers than permitted by the law and numerous court cases involving Truckee River water. The courts have ruled TCID must repay the tribe amounts ranging from 11,000 acre feet to 58,946 acre feet in the peak year, 1979.
The issue involves post-judgment interest to compensate for a plaintiff being deprived of the water – over and above the amount of water improperly diverted during the late 1970s.
TCID argued that interest refers only to money judgments and the district court didn’t have authority to award water. District lawyers said the ruling was unprecedented.
The opinion agreed there doesn’t appear to be statutory support for the concept and that “we do not believe that water interest is appropriate unless there is some factual basis forwarding more water than was originally taken so as to provide complete relief.”
But the opinion gives District Judge Howard McKibben in Reno and the plaintiffs the chance to explain the ruling. It specifically directs district court to explain why water as interest is necessary, the legal basis for the award and its reasoning for setting that interest rate at 2 percent.
The opinion also asks for a recalculation of the amount of water TCID owes the tribe, saying the district court appears to have given TCID the benefit of the doubt in estimating the volume of water.
The battle over appropriation of the Truckee and Carson river waters was first filed in federal court in 1917. It has taken several different forms in several different cases over the years and continues today as the longest-running legal battle in federal court history.
The battle centers on the fact that more water rights have been appropriated along the Truckee and Carson rivers than there is water in those rivers. As a result, Pyramid Lake has been declining for generations while Fallon area farmers in the Newlands Project say they aren’t getting enough water to irrigate their crops.
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