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FPC v. Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., 347 U.S. 239 (1954)

Federal Power Commission v. Niagara Mohawk Power Corp.

No. 28

Argued October 15-16, 1953

Decided March 15, 1954

347 U.S. 239


The Federal Water Power Act of 1920 has not abolished private proprietary rights, existing under state law, to use waters of a navigable stream for power purposes, and, in computing the amortization reserve of the federal licensee in this case, which is required under § 10(d) of that Act, as amended, the Federal Power Commission was not justified in disallowing the expenses paid or incurred by the licensee for the use of such rights along the Niagara River. Pp. 347 U. S. 240-256.

(a) This Court accepts the Court of Appeals' conclusion that this licensee's water rights are valid under the law of New York. Pp. 347 U. S. 245-246.

(b) The water rights claimed by this licensee are usufructuary rights to use the water for the generation of power, as distinguished from claims to the legal ownership of the running water itself, and, under New York law, they constitute a form of real estate known as corporeal hereditaments. Pp. 347 U. S. 246-247.

(c) Even though this licensee's water rights are of a kind that is within the scope of the Government's dominant servitude, the Government has not exercised its power to abolish them.. Pp. 347 U. S. 248-256.

(d) There is a dominant servitude, in favor of the United States, under which private persons hold physical properties obstructing navigable waters of the United States and all rights to use the waters of those streams; but the exercise of that servitude, without making allowances for preexisting rights under state law, requires clear authorization. Pp. 347 U. S. 249-252.

(e) The plan of the Federal Water Power Act is one of reasonable regulation of the use of navigable waters, coupled with encouragement of their development as power projects by private parties. P. 347 U. S. 251.

(f) Riparian water rights, like other real property rights, are determined by state law. The Federal Water Power Act merely imposes upon their owners the additional obligation of using them in compliance with that Act. P. 347 U. S. 252.

Page 347 U. S. 240

(g) Neither the United States nor the State of New York claims such an exclusive right to the waters here in question as to eliminate the limited use which the licensee here seeks to make of them. P. 347 U. S. 256.

(h) The expenses in question, whereby this licensee acquired its water rights, are not shown on this record to have been otherwise unreasonable. P. 347 U. S. 256.

91 U.S.App.D.C. 395, 202 F.2d 190, affirmed.

On respondent's petition to review an order of the Federal Power Commission, 9 F.P.C. 228, the Court of Appeals remanded the case to the Commission with instructions to modify its order. 91 U.S.App.D.C. 395, 202 F.2d 190. This Court granted certiorari. 345 U.S. 955. Affirmed, p. 347 U. S. 256.

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