United States Permitted To Intervene In Water Dispute Between States

In an original action concerning water rights agreed to between several states under the Rio Grande Compact, Texas argued that New Mexico was permitting its users to siphon off more water than the Compact permitted. The United States sought to intervene, making the same claims as Texas, in part because New Mexico’s actions depleted a reservoir through which the Government had agreed to provide water to Mexico under a 1906 treaty. The special master recommended that the Government’s claims be dismissed, but the Court, in a unanimous opinion by Justice Gorsuch, sustained the United States’ request to intervene. Describing the peculiar nature of original actions, the Court held that while the United States could not intervene in every such action, it was proper to do so here because its interests were “inextricably intertwined” with the Compact, and threatened the Government’s ability to comply with its own treaty with Mexico. The Court also noted the Government’s integral role in the Compact. The Court noted that it was not deciding whether the United States could initiate litigation to force a State to perform its obligations under the Compact, or expand the scope of litigation concerning the Compact. See opinion in Texas v. New Mexico.