No. 218.

198 U.S. 361 (1905)


Supreme Court of United States.

Decided May 15, 1905.

Attorney(s) appearing for the Case

Mr. J.W.N. Whitecotton for plaintiffs in error.

No appearance for defendant in error.

MR. JUSTICE PECKHAM, after making the foregoing statement, delivered the opinion of the court.

The plaintiffs in error contend that the proposed use of the enlarged ditch across their land for the purpose of conveying water to the land of the defendant in error alone is not a public use, and that, therefore, the defendant in error has no constitutional or other right to condemn the land, or any portion of it, belonging to the plaintiffs in error, for that purpose. They argue that, although the use of water in the State of Utah for the purpose of mining or irrigation or manufacturing may be a public use where the right to use it is common to the public, yet that no individual has the right to condemn land for the purpose of conveying water in ditches across his neighbor's land, for the purpose of irrigating his own land alone, even where there is, as in this case, a state statute permitting it.

In some States, probably in most of them, the proposition contended for by the plaintiffs in error would be sound. But whether a statute of a State permitting condemnation by an individual for the purpose of obtaining water for his land or for mining should be held to be a condemnation for a public use, and, therefore, a valid enactment, may depend upon a number of considerations relating to the situation of the State and its possibilities for land cultivation, or the successful prosecution of its mining or other industries. Where the use is asserted to be public, and the right of the individual to condemn land for the purpose of exercising such use is founded upon or is the result of some peculiar condition of the soil or climate, or other peculiarity of the State, where the right of condemnation is asserted under a state statute, we are always, where it can fairly be done, strongly inclined to hold with the state courts, when they uphold a state statute providing for such condemnation. The validity of such statutes may sometimes depend upon many different facts, the existence of which would make a public use, even by an individual, where, in the absence of such facts, the use would clearly be private. Those facts must be general, notorious and acknowledged in the State, and the state courts may be assumed to be exceptionally familiar with them. They are not the subject of judicial investigation as to their existence, but the local courts know and appreciate them. They understand the situation which led to the demand for the enactment of the statute, and they also appreciate the results upon the growth and prosperity of the State, which in all probability would flow from a denial of its validity. These are matters which might properly be held to have a material bearing upon the question whether the individual use proposed might not in fact be a public one. It is not alone the fact that the land is arid and that it will bear crops if irrigated, or that the water is necessary for the purpose of working a mine, that is material; other facts might exist which are also material, such as the particular manner in which the irrigation is carried on or proposed, or how the mining is to be done in a particular place where water is needed for that purpose. The general situation and amount of the arid land, or of the mines themselves, might also be material, and what proportion of the water each owner should be entitled to; also the extent of the population living in the surrounding country, and whether each owner of land or mines could be, in fact, furnished with the necessary water in any other way than by the condemnation in his own behalf, and not by a company, for his use and that of others.

These, and many other facts not necessary to be set forth in detail, but which can easily be imagined, might reasonably be regarded as material upon the question of public use, and whether the use by an individual could be so regarded. With all of these the local courts must be presumed to be more or less familiar. This court has stated that what is a public use may frequently and largely depend upon the facts surrounding the subject, and we have said that the people of a State, as also its courts, must in the nature of things be more familiar with such facts and with the necessity and occasion for the irrigation of the lands, than can any one be who is a stranger to the soil of the State, and that such knowledge and familiarity must have their due weight with the state courts. Fallbrook Irrigation District v. Bradley, 164 U.S. 112, 159. It is true that in the Fallbrook case the question was whether the use of the water was a public use when a corporation sought to take land by condemnation under a state statute, for the purpose of making reservoirs and digging ditches to supply land owners with the water the company proposed to obtain and save for such purpose. This court held that such use was public. The case did not directly involve the right of a single individual to condemn land under a statute providing for that condemnation.

We are, however, as we have said, disposed to agree with the Utah court with regard to the validity of the state statute, which provides, under the circumstances stated in the act for the condemnation of the land of one individual for the purpose of allowing another individual to obtain water from a stream in which he has an interest, to irrigate his land, which otherwise would remain absolutely valueless.

But we do not desire to be understood by this decision as approving of the broad proposition that private property may be taken in all cases where the taking may promote the public interest and tend to develop the natural resources of the State. We simply say that in this particular case, and upon the facts stated in the findings of the court, and having reference to the conditions already stated, we are of opinion that the use is a public one, although the taking of the right of way is for the purpose simply of thereby obtaining the water for an individual, where it is absolutely necessary to enable him to make any use whatever of his land, and which will be valuable and fertile only if water can be obtained. Other land owners adjoining the defendant in error, if any there are, might share in the use of the water by themselves taking the same proceedings to obtain it, and we do not think it necessary, in order to hold the use to be a public one, that all should join in the same proceeding or that a company should be formed to obtain the water which the individual land owner might then obtain his portion of from the company by paying the agreed price, or the price fixed by law.

The rights of a riparian owner in and to the use of the water flowing by his land are not the same in the arid and mountainous States of the West that they are in the States of the East. These rights have been altered by many of the Western States, by their constitutions and laws, because of the totally different circumstances in which their inhabitants are placed, from those that exist in the States of the East, and such alterations have been made for the very purpose of thereby contributing to the growth and prosperity of those States arising from mining and the cultivation of an otherwise valueless soil, by means of irrigation. This court must recognize the difference of climate and soil, which render necessary these different laws in the States so situated.

We are of opinion, having reference to the above peculiarities which exist in the State of Utah, that the statute permitting the defendant in error, upon the facts appearing in this record, to enlarge the ditch and obtain water for his own land, was within the legislative power of the State, and the judgment of the state court affirming the validity of the statute is therefore




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