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dation in order to further "orderly legislative procedure." The motion carried.19 The bill with amendments was passed on December 14, 1928.20
The debates contain no evidence that any members of the Senate viewed what had occurred as exempting private lands from the excess land laws. Under certain circumstances the rejection of a provision on the floor of either house of Congress can be referred to as an indication of legislative intent. In the instant case, however, the Senate did not reject the House bill. It did not purport to pass upon it. In fact, it could be argued that since the principal proponent had represented that the two bills had the same purpose and design, they were substantially the same, i.e., land limitations were included in each—which indeed was the case.
No better guideline exists for approaching the legislative material related above than that provided by Justice Rutledge in the case of Gemsco, Inc. v. Walling, 324 U.S. 244, 260 (1945):
The plain words and meaning of a statute cannot be overcome by a legislative history which, through strained processes of deduction from events of wholly ambiguous significance, may furnish dubious bases for inference in every direction.
The Boulder Canyon Project Act must be read in pari materia with the general body of reclamation law. The rules in such cases were stated by Mr. Justice Miller in Wilmot v. Mudge, 103 U.S. 217, 221 (1880), as follows:
First, that effect shall be given to all the words of a statute, where this is possible without a conflict; and Second, that, as regards statutes in pari materia of different dates, the last shall repeal the first only when there are express terms of repeal, or where the implication of repeal is a necessary one. When repeal by implication is relied on it must be impossible for both provisions under consideration to stand, because one necessarily destroys the other. If both can stand by any reasonable construction, that construction must be adopted. Excess land policy was the cornerstone of the reclamation law when the All-American Canal Project was authorized in 1928. "Derangement of a system thus rooted in tradition" is not to be inferred from enactments which do not purport to alter that system, "where inveterate usage forbids the implication." Mr. Justice Cardozo, in General Motors Acceptance Corporation v. United States, 286 U.S. 49, 61-62 (9th Cir. 1932).
So firmly established are the excess land provisions of the reclamation law that Congress suspends their operation only where extraordinary circumstances dictate.21 Where Congress has seen fit to waive
19 70 Cong. Rec. 67-68 (1928).
20 70 Cong. Rec. 603 (1928). 21 Ivanhoe, supra, at 292.
IMPERIAL IRRIGATION DISTRICT LANDS
December 31, 1964
or modify the excess land laws in certain projects, it has always found it appropriate to enact positive legislation setting forth the exemption or other modification in unmistakable terms.22 Where Congress deems a departure from its established policy to be in order it so provides by express terms, and not by implication.
The doctrine of pari materia acquires special force in this case by virtue of the fact that the excess land laws had been undergoing a thorough overhaul since the report of the "Fact Finders" in 1924 23 and culminating in section 46 of the 1926 Act. This activity is reflected in adoption as modified of many of the recommendations of the Fact Finders on excess lands, in an act authorizing an Indian project (Act of June 7, 1924, 43 Stat. 475), in appropriation acts (Act of December 5, 1924, 43 Stat. 672; Act of March 3, 1925, 43 Stat. 1141; Act of May 10, 1926, 44 Stat. 453) and in the Omnibus Adjustment Act of 1926, supra. It is worthy of note that the Omnibus Adjustment Act was enacted in the Congress immediately preceding that which enacted the Boulder Canyon Project Act.
A holding that the landowners in Imperial Valley are exempt from acreage limitations must find support in clear language of the Project Act. Substantial rights were conferred by that act. A grant by the United States of rights, privileges or immunities is construed strictly against the grantee and what is not expressly granted is reserved. The Supreme Court has stated,
The reason of [this] rule is obvious-parties seeking grants for private purposes usually draw the bills making them. If they do not make the language sufficiently explicit and clear to pass everything that is intended to be passed, it is their own fault; while, on the other hand, such a construction has a tendency to prevent parties from inserting ambiguous language for the purpose of taking, by ingenious interpretations and insinuation, that which cannot be obtained by plain and express terms.
See Columbia Basin Antispeculation Act of May 27, 1937, 50 Stat. 208; Act of June 16, 1938, 52 Stat. 764 (Colorado-Big Thompson project); Act of October 14, 1940, 54 Stat. 1119 (water conservation and utilization projects); Act of November 29, 1940, 54 Stat. 1219 (Truckee River and Humboldt projects); Act of March 10, 1943, 57 Stat. 14 (Columbia Basin project); Act of June 27, 1952, 66 Stat. 282 (San Luis Valley project, Colorado) ; Act of August 28, 1954, 68 Stat. 890 (Owl Creek Unit, Missouri River Basin project); Act of September 3, 1954, 68 Stat. 1190 (Santa Maria project); Act of August 1, 1956, 70 Stat. 775 (Washoe project); Act of August 6, 1956, 70 Stat. 1044 (small reclamation projects); Act of July 24, 1957, 71 Stat. 309-310 (East Bench unit, Missouri River Basin project); Act of September 4, 1957, 71 Stat. 608 (Kendrick project); Act of April 7, 1958, 72 Stat. 82 (Lower Rio Grande rehabilitation project, Mercedes division); Act of August 28, 1958, 72 Stat. 963 (Seedskadee project); Act of September 22, 1959, 72 Stat. 641 (Lower Rio Grande rehabilitation project, La Feria division); Act of September 27, 1962, 76 Stat. 634 (Baker project); and Act of October 1, 1962, 76 Stat. 677 (Columbia Basin project).
23 Federal Reclamation by Irrigation, S. Doc. No. 92, 68th Cong., 1st Sess. (1924).
Dubuque and Pacific Railroad v. Litchfield, 64 U.S. 66, 88–89 (1859). See also United States v. Grand River Dam Authority, 363 U.S. 229 (1960), Slidell v. Grandjean, 111 U.S. 412 (1883), The Delaware Railroad Tax (Minot v. The Philadelphia, W. & B. R.R.), 85 U.S. (18 Wall.) 206 (1874).
In Wisconsin Central Railroad Co. v. U.S., 164 U.S. 190 (1896) the Court dealt with a situation analogous to that presented here. By an 1864 Act a grant of land was made to the railroad company, "upon the same terms and conditions" as in an 1856 Act. The 1856 Act provided that the rates for transporting mail could be fixed by Congress. The act of March 3, 1873, prescribed the rates for transporting mail and provided that land grant railroads whose grant was on condition that Congress could fix the rates would receive 80% of the regular rate. The company received 80 percent and sued in the Court of Claims for the balance of the regular rate. The Court held that the words "upon the same terms and conditions" incorporated in the 1864 Act, the provisions of the 1856 Act. “*** [T]he settled rule is that statutes granting privileges or relinquishing rights of the public are to be strictly construed against the grantee." Ibid. at 202.
Applying the same rationale to the application of the acreage limitations to lands in Imperial Valley, section 14 of the Project Act incorporated the reclamation law, and the land limitation provisions of section 46 of the 1926 Act are part of the reclamation law. Nothing in the Project Act exempts the lands in Imperial Valley from section 46. Therefore, the land limitations of section 46 are a part of the Project Act; and since "statutes granting privileges or relinquishing rights of the public are to be strictly construed against the grantee,' the excess land laws apply to the lands in Imperial Valley served by the federal project.
The Wilbur Letter and Prior Administrative Practice
The repayment contract of the Imperial Irrigation District with the United States was executed by Ray Lyman Wilbur, Secretary of the Interior, on December 1, 1932. Article 1 states the contract is made "pursuant to" the reclamation law and Article 30 states that "Except as provided by the Boulder Canyon Project Act, the reclamation law shall govern the construction, operation and maintenance of the works to be constructed hereunder."
It has been the practice of the Bureau of Reclamation to include in irrigation district contracts detailed requirements for the implementation of land limitation provisions. Such detailed requirements vary from case to case, but are substantially similar to those described in Ivanhoe, supra, at 285-86. No such detailed requirements were in
IMPERIAL IRRIGATION DISTRICT LANDS
cluded in the Imperial Irrigation District contract, and to date the District has not complied with the excess land laws. Excess land provisions have been applied to lands within the Coachella Valley County Water District which are also serviced by the All-American Canal under contracts executed pursuant to the Boulder Canyon Project Act. Detailed provisions were included in the supplemental Coachella contract of December 22, 1947, in conformity with a ruling from the then Solicitor of the Department, Mr. Fowler Harper.24
An anomalous situation now exists. The two districts, Imperial and Coachella, while serviced by the same federally constructed facility, are accorded different administrative treatment as to excess land. The reasons for the administrative treatment accorded Imperial were announced in a letter, dated February 24, 1933, from the Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur to the Imperial Irrigation District.25 See Appendix E for text.
24 Solicitor's Opinion, M-33902 (May 31, 1945). See Appendix H.
25 The Wilbur letter was written within three months following execution of the contract. While not relevant to the conclusion reached in this opinion, the record is ambiguous as to whether the Department had actually determined the excess land laws not to be applicable to Imperial Irrigation District prior to the execution of the contract. There is no direct evidence of such a conclusion. To the contrary, the only record we have been able to find of consideration of the question prior to the execution of the contract indicates that the excess land limitations did apply. On November 4, 1930, Executive Assistant to the Secretary Northcutt Ely stated that the excess land laws would have to be enforced in Imperial Valley. (Response No. 3 by Northcutt Ely. See Appendix D.)
The Wilbur letter itself states that the question was raised "early in the negotiations" and adds that "upon careful consideration the view was reached that this limitation does not apply to land now cultivated and having a present water right." When this conclusion was reached, the Secretary did not say.
The genesis of the Wilbur letter is found in a letter of February 4, 1933 (Appendix B), from Mr. Coffey to Porter W. Dent, Assistant Commissioner and Chief Counsel of the Bureau of Reclamation.
Mr. Coffey's letter takes no position but reports a conversation with Mr. Charles L. Childers, general counsel for Imperial. Mr. Childers apparently told Mr. Coffey that Mr. Dent and Judge Finney, the Solicitor, had agreed during the contract negotiations that acreage limitations did not apply to Imperial. He requested a formal Solicitor's ruling to that effect but significantly, said Mr. Coffey, "He doesn't want any formal ruling, of course, if the Solicitor were to hold that the limitation applies
Assuming the Childers' conversation was correctly reported by Mr. Coffey-we have nothing directly from Mr. Childers-two facts are evident: first, that Mr. Childers is not certain that the application of the excess land laws is precluded by failure to incorporate detailed provisions in the contract; and, second, that he is not sufficiently certain that a conclusion has been reached that the excess land laws do not apply to preclude the possibility that a formal opinion might declare that they do.
Mr. Coffey's letter was transmitted to Mr. Ely by a memorandum of February 7, 1933 (Appendix B), from Mr. Dent. While the Dent memorandum, like the Wilbur letter, states that the question of applicability of the 160-acre limitation was raised “early in the negotiations connected with the All-American Canal contract," Mr. Dent went on to say that "So far as I am advised, all who have given this matter consideration agree that this limitation does not apply to lands now cultivated and having a present water right. The view has been, and is, I believe, that those lands having already a water right, are entitled to have such right recognized without regard to the acreage limitation mentioned."
It is to be noted that while Mr. Dent stated that the question had arisen "early in the negotiations," he did not state that it had been then resolved. His remarks which follow
Secretary Wilbur based his conclusion that the excess land laws do not apply to the private lands in the Imperial District on two contentions. The first was that no "sale" of a water right had ocurred within the meaning of section 5 of the Reclamation Act of June 17, 1902,26 because the private lands in the Imperial District had a vested water right which was recognized by the Congress in section 1 of the Project Act through the water-charge exemption.
Secretary Wilbur's understanding of the word "sale" in section 5 of the 1902 Act has already been disposed of, and the fact, that Congress gave Imperial an exemption from charges "for water and the use, storage, or delivery of water" does not constitute the granting of a water right.
This point is not material to the question being considered in this memorandum since, as has been shown, the ownership of a water right does not preclude the application of the excess land laws. However, if it were material, it must be pointed out that the language of section 1 of the Project Act does not in terms create or recognize a water right, it merely exempts from a charge. And as already noted "the established rule of construction in such cases is, that rights, privileges, and immunities not expressly granted are reserved. There is no safety to the public interests in any other rule." The Delaware Railroad Tax (Minot v. The Philadelphia, W. & B. R.R.), 85 U.S. (18 Wall.) 206, 225 (1874).
that statement are as susceptible to a present resolution of the matter as to a resolution in the course of the negotiations.
By memorandum of February 16, 1933, Mr. Ely advised Mr. Dent that he concurred in the Dent view and requested Mr. Dent to prepare what became the Wilbur letter (Appendix C).
The only other contemporary departmental record heightens the ambiguity as to when the conclusion announced in the Wilbur letter was actually reached. This is the March 1, 1933, letter from Mr. Dent to Mr. Coffey (Appendix F). In this letter Mr. Dent referred to the opinion that he had shared with Mr. Coffey early in the negotiations that some specific provision should be inserted regarding acreage limitation. He then stated that representatives of the District feared that a specific provision "would only be confusing and make ratification by the landowners more difficult." He went on to say that the ground relied on by the Wilbur letter, i.e., non-applicability of the acreage limitation to lands having a vested water right, "is the ground upon which you and I with reluctance agreed to elimination of the specific provision regarding acreage limitation." It is not clear from this statement whether Mr. Dent reluctantly agreed with that ground prior to execution of the contract, or only reluctantly agreed to delete a reference to excess lands on that ground.
In any event, in the extensive departmental files covering the negotiation of the Imperial contract, save for Mr. Ely's memorandum of November 4, 1930, there has been found no contemporary record either of legal analysis or discussion of the excess land question. On the other hand, these files do reveal that counsel for the Imperial District was not satisfied that a decision had been reached in the Department prior to execution of the contract, and sought formal assurance on the question. The request for formal decision was rejected in favor of the informal Wilbur letter. Neither in that letter nor in the memoranda leading up to its preparation is the ambiguity of when the decision was first reached resolved. 28 32 Stat. 389. "No right to the use of water for land in private ownership shall be sold for a tract exceeding 160 acres to any one landowner ***."