The opinion of the court was delivered by: PARKER
In this proceeding plaintiff seeks a preliminary injunction embracing a wide range of relief. The Court concludes that partial relief is warranted and a preliminary injunction is granted to that extent. The background events and the reasons why such relief is granted are set forth in this Memorandum Opinion.
The Nature of the Litigation
This proceeding is concerned with our nation's reclamation program and the sale of privately owned land in the Westland Water District (Westlands) of the San Joaquin Valley of California. Such sales are governed by the requirements and provisions of the Reclamation Act of 1902, 43 U.S.C. § 371 et seq., and the Omnibus Adjustment Act of 1926, 43 U.S.C. § 423 et seq.
The reclamation program provides federally subsidized water to private owners of land in Westlands and other arid areas through projects constructed and sponsored by the Federal government. The two statutes mandate that owners of more than 160 acres in Westlands may receive water from a Federal water resources project on such excess land if they sign recordable contracts agreeing to sell such excess land within a stated time to eligible buyers in 160 acre parcels at prices based on the true market value of such lands without reference to the construction of the water project. The Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau) of the Department of Interior is charged with the administration of the reclamation program.
The plaintiff, National Land for People, Inc. (National Land), seeks a preliminary injunction against officials of the Department of Interior prohibiting the approval of such excess land sales under present Bureau rules and regulations; directing them to institute rule making proceedings and to implement rules consistent with the Act; and prohibiting them from approving sales of excess land until completion of rule making procedures.
The Westlands Water District is a part of the San Luis Unit of the Central Valley Project in California. It was designed, constructed, and financed by the government to supply federally owned water through federally owned irrigation works to farm land in Westlands. The Project is administered by the Bureau in accordance with the Reclamation Acts of 1902 and 1926.
All land within Westlands was in private ownership at the time the Project was authorized by Congress. Under the Act of 1926, for a private landowner to receive Project water, he was first required to sign a recordable contract with the Department of the Interior agreeing to sell any lands owned in excess of 160 acres, under terms and conditions satisfactory to the Secretary of the Interior and at prices not exceeding those fixed by the Secretary. 43 U.S.C. § 423e.
A condition of the recordable contract is that the landowner must obtain approval of proposed excess land sales from the Bureau of Reclamation. Under the reclamation laws and pursuant to its recordable contract with the landowner, the Bureau approves the sale when assured that: a bona fide sale is involved; the prospective purchaser is eligible to take title to the land as nonexcess; and the price involved in the transaction does not reflect project benefits.
If the landowner fails to sell his excess acreage within time limits provided by the contract, a power of attorney passes to the Secretary of the Interior to sell the property. Otherwise, the Bureau of Reclamation has no ...