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U.S. Supreme Court

Andrus v. Charlestone Stone Products Co., 436 U.S. 604 (1978)

Andrus v. Charlestone Stone Products Co.,

No. 77-380

Argued April 18, 1978

Decided May 31, 1978

436 U.S. 604


The basic federal mining statute, 30 U.S.C. § 22, which derives from an 1872 law, provides that "all valuable mineral deposits in lands belonging to the United States . . . shall be free and open to exploration and purchase." Respondent, after purchasing a. number of mining claims, discovered water on one of them (Claim 22) and used the water to prepare for commercial sale the sand and gravel removed from the claims. On review of unfavorable administrative decisions against respondent's claims in proceedings challenging their validity, the District Court held, inter alia, that respondent was entitled to access to Claim 22's water, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, adding sua sponte that Claim 22 itself is valid because of the water thereon.

Held: Water is not a "valuable mineral" within the meaning of 30 U.S.C. § 22, and hence is not a locatable mineral thereunder. Pp. 436 U. S. 610-617.

(a) The fact that water may be a "mineral" in the broadest sense of that word is not sufficient for a holding that a claimant has located a "valuable mineral deposit" under § 22; nor is the fact that water may be valuable or marketable enough to support a mining claim's validity based on the presence of water. In order for a claim to be valid, the substance discovered must not only be a "valuable mineral" within the dictionary definition of those words, it must also be the type of valuable mineral that the 1872 Congress intended to make the basis of a valid claim. Pp. 436 U. S. 610-611.

(b) The relevant statutory provisions, which reflect the view that water is not a locatable mineral under the mining statutes and that private water rights on federal lands are to be governed by state and local law and custom; the history out of which such statutes arose; the decisions of the Department of the Interior construing the statutes in line with such view; and the practical problems that would arise if two overlapping systems for acquisition of private water rights were permitted, all support the conclusion that Congress did not intend water to be locatable under the federal mining law. Pp. 436 U. S. 611-617.

553 F.2d 1209, reversed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Page 436 U. S. 605

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