The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003 Page: 379
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Restoring the Oldest Water Right in Texas
new channel of a height sufficient to restore gravity flow of river water to
the San Juan Ditch "would quite effectively destroy the flood control fea-
ture of the San Antonio Channel Improvement Project" and once more
cause ravaging floods in the central portion of the city of San Antonio.26
In a trial brief for the plaintiff the SARA's attorneys reiterated Dickson's
argument: the threat of continued flooding warranted the exercise of
police powers to protect the metropolitan population of 570,000 against
"this flood menace to the public health, safety, and property, public and
private." They also asserted that the flood control project necessitated the
widening, straightening, and lowering of the riverbed in the southern part
of the city. As to the resulting effects on property owners adjacent to the
San Juan Acequia, it was acknowledged that some temporary impact had
occurred when the project "destroyed the San Juan Dam and cut off com-
pletely the gravity flow of water into the ditch." It was not conceded, how-
ever, that any land or the actual ditch had been taken or damaged, "but
only water cut off."27A controversial point advanced at this stage of the
proceedings was the SARA's contention that the old dam did not belong
to the irrigators; nor were they entitled to vested rights to the flow of river
waters provided by way of this particular structure. The SARA's attorneys
reasoned that the dam lay in the bed of the river and consequently
belonged to the river authority as an agency of the state. Relocating the
dam, therefore, was a reasonable exercise of the SARA's police powers,
especially when no injury resulted to the acequia irrigators. The SARA
then went on to argue that the new dam planned for the project, coupled
with the feasibility of pumping river water from the dam to the headgate
of the San Juan Acequia, demonstrated that no dispute existed. The attor-
neys for the SARA hoped that the court could base a summary judgment
for the SARA on this conclusion.28
On June 26, 1959, the 131st District Court of Bexar County heard the
SARA's motion for summary declaratory judgment. Prior to the hearing,
attorneys for the irrigators had provided the court with their own plead-
ings against the motion. Among other points the attorneys argued that
the defendants had "vested property rights" to the flow of the water in
the San Antonio River for the purpose of irrigation and cited decisions
from the Court of Civil Appeals and the Texas Supreme Court in sup-
port of their position: recipients of sovereign grants of land adjacent to a
stream, or through which a stream flows, are entitled to riparian water
1Deposition ofJ. L. Dickson, manager, San Antonio River Authority, exhibit two, Motion to
Strike Certain Documents Attached to Motion of Plaintiff for Summary Judgment, March 7,
1959, SARA v Dillon, m the 13IstJudicial District of Bexar County, no. F-i 15, 976.
27 Plaintiff's Trial Brief Summary, SARA v. Dillon, m the 131 stJudicial District of Bexar County,
no. F- 115, 976.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 106, July 2002 - April, 2003, periodical, 2003; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101223/m1/447/: accessed December 12, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.