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U.S. Supreme Court

Escondido Water Co. v. La Jolla Indians, 466 U.S. 765 (1984)

Escondido Mutual Water Co. v.

La Jolla Band of Mission Indians

No. 82-2056.

Argued March 26, 1984

Decided May 15, 1984

466 U.S. 765


Section 4(e) of the Federal Power Act (FPA) authorizes the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Commission to issue licenses for the construction, operation, and maintenance of hydroelectric project works located on the public lands and reservations of the United States, including lands held in trust for Indians. The section contains a proviso that such licenses shall be issued "within any reservation" only after a finding by the Commission that the license will not interfere or be inconsistent with the purpose for which the reservation was created or acquired, and

"shall be subject to and contain such conditions as the Secretary of the department under whose supervision such reservation falls shall deem necessary for the adequate protection and utilization of such reservations."

Section 8 of the Mission Indian Relief Act of 1891 (MIRA), pursuant to which six reservations were established for respondent Indian Bands (respondents), provides that any United States citizen, firm, or corporation may contract with the Bands for the right to construct a flume, ditch, canal, pipe, or other appliances for the conveyance of water over, across, or through their reservations, which contract shall not be valid unless approved by the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) under such conditions as he may see fit to impose. When the original license covering hydroelectric facilities located on or near the six reservations, including a canal that crosses respondent La Jolla, Rincon, and San Pasqual Bands' reservations, was about to expire, petitioner Escondido Mutual Water Co. (Mutual) and petitioner city of Escondido filed an application with the Commission for a new license. Thereafter the Secretary requested that the Commission recommend federal takeover of the project, and respondents applied for a nonpower license. After hearings on the competing applications, an Administrative Law Judge concluded that the project was not subject to the Commission's licensing jurisdiction. The Commission reversed and granted a license to Mutual, Escondido, and petitioner Vista Irrigation District, which had been using the canal in question. The Court of Appeals in turn reversed the Commission, holding, contrary to the Commission, (1) that § 4(e) of the FPA required the Commission to accept without modification any license conditions recommended by the Secretary; (2) that the Commission was required to satisfy its § 4(e) obligations with respect to all six of the reservations,

Page 466 U. S. 766

and not just the three through which the canal passes; and (3) that § 8 of the MIRA required the licensees to obtain right-of-way permits from respondent La Jolla, Rincon, and San Pasqual Bands before using the license facilities located on their reservations.


1. The plain command of § 4(e) of the FPA requires the Commission to accept without modification conditions that the Secretary deems necessary for the adequate protection and utilization of the reservations. Nothing in the legislative history or statutory scheme is inconsistent with this plain command. Pp. 466 U. S. 772-779.

2. But the Commission must make its "no inconsistency or interference" findings and include the Secretary's conditions in the license only with respect to projects located "within" the geographical boundaries of a federal reservation. It is clear that Congress concluded that reservations were not entitled to the protection of § 4(e)'s proviso unless some of the licensed works were actually within the reservation. Thus, the Court of Appeals erred in holding that the Commission's § 4(e) obligation to accept the Secretary's conditions and to make such findings applied to the three reservations on which no licensed facilities were located. Pp. 466 U. S. 780-78.

3. Section 8 of the MIRA does not require licensees to obtain respondents' consent before they operate licensed facilities located on reservation lands. While § 8 gave respondents authority to determine whether to grant rights-of-way for water projects, that authority did not include the power to override Congress' subsequent decision in enacting the FPA that all lands, including tribal land, could, upon compliance with the FPA, be utilized to facilitate licensed hydroelectric projects. Pp. 466 U. S. 784-787.

692 F.2d 1223 and 701 F.2d 826, affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.

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

Page 466 U. S. 767

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