Andrus v. Charlestone Stone Products Co.
436 U.S. 604 (1978)
Under the General Mining
Law of 1872 (30 U.S.C. §22), people were allowed to make claims to
"valuable mineral deposits" they found on Federal lands.
Basically, if you discovered
a valuable mineral (like gold or copper) you could "stake a
claim" and get a permit to mine the mineral and keep the profits.
Charlestone had made a number
of claims on some Federal land in Nevada. Most of the claims were for
things like sand and gravel. But one of Charlestone's claims Charlestone
was for water. The Department of the Interior (DOI) denied the claim.
Charlestone argued that the
water had commercial value and that it was used for preparing the sand
and gravel from their other claims, so they should be able to claim the
water as well.
DOI argued that water was
not a "valuable mineral."
The Appellate Court found for
Charlestone. DOI appealed.
The Appellate Court found
that water is a "valuable mineral" and so under a plain
language reading of the Mining Law,
Charlestone was allowed to stake a claim for it.
The US Supreme Court reversed
and denied the claim.
The US Supreme Court agreed
that technically water was a "mineral" that had
However, the Court found
that in order to be covered under the Mining Law, a substance must be the type of valuable
mineral that the 1872 Congress intended to make the basis of a valid
In this case, people in 1872
clearly knew that water was valuable, but other congressional acts of the
time relating to water rights imply that Congress did not intend water to
be covered under the Mining Act.
The Court also found that
allowing water rights to be claimable under the Mining Act would cause all sorts of problems, because
people were already claiming water rights under other laws.