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Arkansas Game and Fish Commission v. United States
Citation:133 S. Ct. 511 (2012)
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The Clearwater Dam is located 115 miles upstream from the land the plaintiff, Arkansas, manages. The defendant, the United States, constructed the Dam in 1948, and shortly thereafter adopted a plan known as the Water Control Manual to determine the rates at which water would be released from the dam. In 1993, the United States approved a planned deviation from the Water Control Manual in response to requests from farmers. From September to December of 1993, the United States released water from the Dam at a slower rate than usual, providing downstream farmers a longer harvest time. As a result, more water than usual accumulated in Clearwater Lake behind the Dam. To reduce that accumulation, the United States extended the period in which a high amount of water would be released. This extension yielded downstream flooding in the land Arkansas managed, above historical norms, during tree-growing season. If the United States had released water more rapidly in the fall of 1993, in accordance with the Water Control Manual and past practices, there would have been short-term waves of flooding which would have receded quickly. The lower rate of release in the fall, however, extended the flooding well into spring and summer. While that benefitted farmers, it interfered with Arkansas tree-growing season. The United States adopted similar deviations each year from 1994 to 2000. During this span of years the United States proposed these deviations become part of the permanent plan. On multiple occasions between 1993 and 2000 Arkansas objected to the deviations and any permanent changes to the plan. The Court of Federal Claims found that the forests in Arkansas’s land were healthy and flourishing in the 90s before the flooding, and had been sustainably managed for decades under the Water Control Manual before the changes. Because the trees were subject to prolonged periods of flooding year after year, the oxygen level in the soil was reduced and the tree’s root system was considerably weakened. This resulted in catastrophic mortality, and the invasion of undesirable plant species.
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