Carson Truckee Water Conservancy District v. Clark
741 F.2d 257 (9th Cir. 1984)

  • Stampede Dam was being operated by the Department of the Interior (DOI) in a way to conserve two endangered fish species on the Little Truckee River.
    • In order to conserve the species, the dam had to hold in more water than they would otherwise need to.
  • Under a Federal law called the Washoe Project Act (43 U.S.C.A. 6614-614d), the DOI was required to sell water from the dam to municipal and industrial users downstream.
    • However, DOI concluded that to do so would violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA) 7(a)(2).
      • 7(a)(2) basically says that agencies must take actions to avoid jeopardizing endangered species.
  • Various downstream customers, upset at the lack of water, sued DOI for violating the Washoe Project Act.
    • DOI argued that they could not satisfy the requirements of both laws, and that the ESA should supercede the Washoe Project Act.
    • The downstream customers argued that 7(a)(2) only applies when an agency undertakes an action. In this case, since the dam was already built, DOI wasn't undertaking a new project, and so had no obligations under 7(a)(2).
  • The Trial Court found for DOI. The downstream customers appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that DOI had obligations under ESA. They needed to determine exactly how much water was absolutely required for compliance with ESA, and then any excess water they had should be sold in accordance with the Washoe Project Act.
      • If there was no excess water, then DOI was not required to sell any.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court agreed that DOI had no obligations under 7(a)(2) because they were not undertaking any new actions.
    • However, the Appellate Court found that under ESA 7(a)(2), 2(b), 2(c), and 3(3), DOI had an obligation to actively seek to conserve endangered species. Therefore, they were an obligation to not sell the water, even if that was a violation of the Washoe Project Act.