Thursday, May 07, 2020

Modesto Irrigation Dist. v. Tanaka (Cal. Ct. App. - May 7, 2020)

This doesn't read at all like a typical opinion by Justice Raye.  Or even a typical opinion from the Court of Appeal.  It reads more like a novel.

There's excruciating detail -- full of principal sources from the period -- about the extent and nature of farming in the Sacramento delta during the late 19th century.  And I mean excruciating detail.

It's not that this information is totally irrelevant to the dispute.  It's relevant.  The question is whether the grantor intended to transfer riparian rights alongside the land.  And Justice Raye's basic argument is that he did; that it wouldn't make sense to transfer farmland in this area at this time without the corresponding right to irrigate crops using water from the nearby river.

But, still, the level of detail here is intense.  With a lot of background facts that read more like they're from a PhD dissertation about California agriculture in the 1800s than a judicial opinion from 2020.

I'm not way persuaded that no one would buy this land (for farming or otherwise) and rely solely upon (as one witness testified) the "water from above" to irrigate crops (or water from below -- i.e., a well -- to satisfy these or other needs).  But I'll agree that Justice Raye makes a strong case that any buyer should have probably wanted riparian rights as well.  Particularly if they didn't cost much (or anything).

Anyway, after today's decision, the owner of this land gets to take water from the Middle River.  Good for her.  Maybe not great for everyone else, but it definitely just made her property that much more valuable.

All as the result of an opinion much of which reads like historical fiction.