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 appealed.
    • 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 "value."
    • 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 claim.
    • 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.