Journal of Environmental Law & Litigation : Vol. 23, No. 1, p. 241-274 : Watering Down Federal Court Jurisdiction: What Role Do Federal Courts Play in Deciding Water Rights?
Within the context of water rights issues, this Note discusses how federal courts have analyzed Colorado River in deciding whether to exercise jurisdiction or abstain because of “exceptional circumstances.”8 Part I provides a brief overview of judicially created abstention doctrines. Part II discusses the tension among federal reserved water rights, the prior appropriation doctrine, and a state’s authority over allocating its own water. Part II also focuses on the reasons federal agencies may choose to assert water rights claims in federal court and how the McCarran Amendment has limited that choice. Part III describes the Colorado River decision in detail and analyzes how courts have applied and misapplied its doctrine when resolving water rights issues. Part IV examines the doctrine of prior exclusive jurisdiction, a narrow abstention exception focusing on situations where the court that originally adjudicated a water-rights determination, whether state or federal, would have exclusive jurisdiction over all subsequent adjudications concerning the same water body. Part V explains how Colorado River abstention and the prior exclusive jurisdiction doctrine connect in the realm of water rights conflicts. The Note concludes by providing a final assessment of the subject at hand.