Defendant irrigation company appealed the judgment of the Superior Court of Lassen County (California), which held that plaintiff landowner was entitled to free water sufficient to irrigate the two parcels of property that belonged to the landowner.
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The landowner constructed an irrigation system and sold the system, reserving to himself enough water to irrigate one of his parcels of property. On the second parcel of property, the landowner’s predecessor had contracted for the right to obtain a sufficient amount of water to irrigate that parcel from a previous owner of the irrigation system, and the landowner asserted that his predecessor’s contract with the previous owner of the irrigation system gave the landowner the right to whatever water was necessary to irrigate his land at no cost. The trial court held that the landowner had the right to whatever water was needed to irrigate both parcels at no cost. The court reversed, holding that, with respect to the first parcel, the landowner had no right to reserve an undetermined quantity of water because water was a public use taken subject to the public’s superior right to the water. With respect to the second parcel, the court ruled that under Cal. Const. art. XIV, § 1 (1879), a water company had no right to grant preferential rights to use water to any customer and that the landowner was not entitled to free water.
The court reversed and remanded the trial court’s judgment, which held that the landowner had obtained the right to free water from the irrigation company.