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YUMA COUNTY WATER USERS' ASSOCIATION ET AL. v. SCHLECHT ET. AL.

decided: April 30, 1923.

YUMA COUNTY WATER USERS' ASSOCIATION ET AL
v.
SCHLECHT ET. AL.



APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT.

Author: Sutherland

[ 262 U.S. Page 139]

 MR. JUSTICE SUTHERLAND delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Yuma County Water Users' Association is a corporation organized primarily to represent the settlers on the Yuma Irrigation Project in Arizona in their dealings with the Government. The other appellants are shareholders and owners of tracts of land under the project.

[ 262 U.S. Page 140]

     On April 8, 1904, the Secretary of the Interior received the report of a board of consulting engineers, made at his request, giving alternative estimates of the cost of the project, and recommending that $3,000,000 be set aside for construction. This report was followed by a letter from the Director of the Geological Survey, joining in the recommendation and, among other things, saying:

"In general the reports indicate that by means of construction of a dam across Colorado River and other works, it will be possible to reclaim upwards of 85,000 acres of land at a cost of less than $40 per acre. . . .

"The land is extremely fertile in character, the climate is somewhat tropical, and the products have such value per acre that it is believed that the cost of $40 per acre is not prohibitive.

"There are a large number of alternatives to be considered and difficult problems to be solved, but the matter has developed from the engineering side to a point where it is possible to consider the larger features and to set aside provisionally a sufficient sum of money to carry out the work contingent upon satisfactory arrangements being made with the owners of lands and vested rights and the complete solution of other matters now pending."

The Secretary, on May 10, 1904, replied approving the recommendation. Correspondence ensued between the Water Users' Association and the officials of the Reclamation Service, and on May 28, 1904, a meeting between them was had. It does not seem necessary to give the details of this correspondence or of the meeting. It suffices to say that, throughout, the officials declared that in their opinion the project would cost at the rate of about $35 per acre, and the water users joined in the enterprise under that belief. True, it was stated that this sum might be increased or lessened as the work progressed and the opinion was otherwise qualified; but it was evidently thought that the cost would not depart

[ 262 U.S. Page 141]

     from the figures given to any great extent one way or the other. Thereupon the land owners subscribed for shares in the association, binding themselves to pay the cost of the project in proportion to their interests and pledging their lands as security to that end.

On May 31, 1906, the association, acting for its shareholders, entered into an agreement with the Government by which it was stipulated: that the Secretary should determine the number of acres capable of irrigation under the project; that payments should be divided into not less than ten equal annual installments, the first payable at the time of the completion of the works, or within a reasonable time thereafter and after due notice from the Secretary; and that the cost per acre should be equal throughout the district. And the association agrees "that it will promptly collect or require prompt payment in such manner as the Secretary of the Interior may direct, and hereby guarantees the payments for that part of the cost of the irrigation works, which shall be apportioned by the Secretary of the Interior to its shareholders. . . ." The contract is silent as to the amount of the cost and nowhere suggests that it had already been fixed.

It does not appear that a definite plan of construction was determined upon until after the meeting in 1904; the report of the engineers contains no estimate in respect of the works as they were finally constructed; and no construction contract was made until June, 1905. In the process of construction, great and unexpected difficulties were encountered. The contractors finding themselves unable to proceed, abandoned their contract and the Government was forced to take upon itself the burden of completing the work. The ultimate cost was more than double what had ...


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