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AGO 1969 No. 24 - December 22, 1969
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington


DISTRICTS - PUBLIC UTILITY - PORT - IRRIGATION - RECLAMATION - RECLAMATION REVOLVING FUND BOND PURCHASES FOR RECLAMATION PROJECTS.

(1) A public utility district is authorized to construct, operate and maintain an irrigation water distribution system for the purpose of reclaiming lands for agricultural uses.

(2) A port district is not authorized to construct, operate and maintain an irrigation water distribution system for the purpose of reclaiming lands for agricultural uses.

(3) Moneys in the state reclamation revolving fund may be expended to purchase bonds of a public utility district which are issued by the district for the purpose of financing an irrigation project designed to reclaim arid waste lands for agricultural uses, upon approval of the particular reclamation project by the director of the department of water resources.

(4) The director of the department of water resources may loan moneys from the reclamation revolving fund to an irrigation district to be used to finance the development of final engineering plans for an irrigation project of said district.

                                                              - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                               December 22, 1969

Honorable Damon R. Canfield
State Senator, 8th District
1368 Upland Drive
Sunnyside, Washington 98944

                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGO 1969 No. 24

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on several questions pertaining to the financing and development of reclamation projects.  We paraphrase your questions as follows:

            (1) Is a public utility district authorized to construct, operate, and maintain an irrigation water distribution system for the purposes of reclaiming lands for agricultural uses?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (2) Is a port district authorized to construct, operate and maintain an irrigation water distribution system for the purposes described in question (1)?

            (3) May the moneys in the state reclamation revolving fund be expended to purchase bonds of a public utility district which are issued by the district for the purpose of financing an irrigation project designed to reclaim arid waste lands for agricultural uses?

            (4) May the director of the department of water resources loan moneys from the reclamation revolving fund to an irrigation district to be used to finance the development of final engineering plans for an irrigation project of said district?

            We answer questions (1) and (4) in the affirmative; question (2) in the negative, and question (3) as set forth in the body of this opinion.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Question (1):

            Your first question pertains to the powers of a public utility district organized under Title 54 RCW.  You ask whether such a district, for the purpose of reclaiming lands for agricultural purposes, may construct, operate and maintain an irrigation water distribution system.

            Public utility districts are "municipal corporations" organized under the laws of the state of Washington.1/   See, RCW 54.04.020.  As such they have only those powers expressly granted to them by statute or necessarily implied therefrom.  Washington Public Power Supply System v. Pacific Northwest Power Company, 217 F. Supp. 481 (D. Oregon 1963).

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            The first section of the act which authorized the creation of public utility districts, § 1, chapter 1, Laws of 1931 (uncodified), provides:

            "The purpose of this act is to authorize the establishment of public utility districts to conserve the water and power resources of the State of Washington for the benefit of the people thereof, and to supply public utility service, including water and electricityfor all uses."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            An enumeration of powers of a public utility district is found in succeeding provisions of Title 54 RCW, primarily chapter 54.16 RCW.  RCW 54.16.020 provides that such a district,

            ". . .may construct, condemn and purchase, purchase, acquire, lease, add to, maintain, operate, develop, and regulate all lands, property, property rights, water, water rights, dams, ditches, flumes, aqueducts, pipes and pipe lines, water power, leases, easements, rights of way, franchises, plants, plant facilities, and systems for generating electric energy by water power, steam, or other methods; plants, plant facilities, and systems for developing, conserving, and distributing water for domestic use and irrigation; buildings, structures, poles and pole lines, and cables and conduits and any and all other facilities; and may exercise the right of eminent domain to effectuate the foregoing purposes or for the acquisition and damaging of such property and rights, or property of any kind appurtenant thereto, and for the purpose of acquiring the right to make physical connection with plants and plant facilities of all persons and municipalities. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            In addition, RCW 54.16.030 provides that a public utility district,

            ". . . may construct, purchase, condemn and purchase, acquire, add to,maintain, conduct, and operate water works and irrigation plants and systems, within or without its limits,  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] for the purpose of furnishing the district, and the inhabitants thereof, and any other persons including public and private corporations within or without its limits, with an ample supply of water for all purposes, public and private, including water power, domestic use, and irrigation, with full and exclusive authority to sell and regulate and control the use, distribution, and price thereof."  (Emphasis supplied.)2/

             The quoted provisions of the aforementioned statutes clearly empower public utility districts to construct, operate and maintain water distribution systems for, inter alia, irrigation purposes.  Although no express mention is made within the statutes of the various purposes for which an irrigation system may be operated, we believe that the powers granted in RCW 54.16.020 and RCW 54.16.030 (when read together with the general policy of the public utility laws found in § 1, chapter 1, Laws of 1931, supra, providing that a district may provide water for "all uses") include the authority to engage in the construction, operation and maintenance of water distribution facilities for the purpose of developing and reclaiming lands for agricultural uses.

            Question (2):

            You next ask whether a port district is empowered to construct, operate and maintain an irrigation system for the purpose of developing and reclaiming land for agricultural uses.

            Port districts, like public utility districts, are characterized as "municipal corporations."  See, RCW 53.04.060.  They, too, are limited in their powers to those which have been expressly conferred upon them by statute or reasonably implied therefrom.  State ex rel. Port of Seattle v. Superior Court, 93 Wash. 267, 160 Pac. 755 (1916).

            The first section of chapter 53.04 RCW lists the basic purposes for which a port district may be established.  This section, RCW 53.04.010, provides:

            "Port districts are hereby authorized to be established in the various counties of  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] the state for the purposes of acquisition, construction, maintenance, operation, development and regulation within the district of harbor improvements, rail or motor vehicle transfer and terminal facilities, water transfer and terminal facilities, air transfer and terminal facilities, or any combination of such transfer and terminal facilities, and other commercial transportation, transfer, handling, storage and terminal facilities, and industrial improvements."

            In subsequent provisions of Title 53, primarily in chapter 53.08 RCW, broad powers are granted to effectuate the purposes for which a port district is created.  While, in our review, we have found statutes which undoubtedly mean that a port district may, in performance of its functions, establish and operate waterways and utilities to service port district lands for industrial and commercial purposes (see, RCW 53.08.040), we have failed to discover any statute which would authorize a port district to establish a water distribution system created for the primary purposes of reclaiming and developing land for agricultural uses.

            You are therefore advised that, in our opinion, a port district is not presently empowered by state law to construct, operate and maintain a water distribution system which is created for the primary purpose of furnishing irrigation water to reclaim lands for agricultural purposes.3/

             Question (3):

            Your third question, in effect, assumes the foregoing answers to your first two questions; i.e., that a public utility district may, but a port district may not, engage in irrigation activities for reclamation purposes.  You ask, then, whether moneys in the state reclamation revolving fund may be used to purchase bonds of a public utility district issued by the district for the purpose of financing an irrigation project designed to reclaim lands for agricultural uses.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            This fund is provided for under RCW 89.16.020,4/ which reads as follows:

            "For the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this chapter the state reclamation revolving fund, heretofore established and hereinafter called the reclamation fund, shall consist of all sums appropriated thereto by the legislature; all gifts made to the state therefor and the proceeds of the sale thereof; the proceeds of the sale or redemption of and the interest earned by securities acquired with the moneys thereof; all reimbursements for moneys advanced for the payment of assessments upon public lands of the state for the improvement thereof; and all taxes received under levies authorized therefor."

            The purchase of bonds with moneys in this fund is provided for under RCW 89.16.050, as follows:

            "In carrying out the purposes of this chapter, the director of the department of conservation  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]] and development5/ of the state of Washington shall be authorized and empowered: . . .

            "To purchase the bonds of any reclamation district 'whose project is approved by the director and which is found to be upon a sound financial basis, to contract with any such district for making surveys and furnishing engineering plans and supervision for the construction of its project, or for constructing or completing its project and to advance money to the credit of the district for any or all of such purposes, and to accept the bonds, coupon notes or coupon warrants of such district in payment therefor, and to expend the moneys appropriated from the reclamation fund in the purchase of such bonds, notes or warrants or in carrying out such contracts:. . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            For a determination of what constitutes a reclamation district within the meaning of this statute, reference must be made to RCW 89.16.040, relating (also) to the uses which may be made of the reclamation revolving fund.  This statute reads as follows:

            "From the moneys appropriated from the reclamation fund there shall be paid, upon vouchers approved by the director of conservation, the administrative expenses of the director under this chapter and such amounts as are found necessary for the investigation and survey of reclamation projects proposed to be financed in whole or in part by the director, and such amounts as may be authorized by him for the reclamation of logged-off lands andof lands of diking, diking improvement, drainage, drainage  [[Orig. Op. Page 8]] improvement, diking and drainage, diking and drainage improvement, irrigation and irrigation improvement districts, andsuch other districts as are authorized by law for the reclamation or development of waste or undeveloped lands, and all such districts and improvement districts shall, for the purposes of this chapter be known as reclamation districts."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Reading these sections together it is to be seen that authority has been granted to expend moneys in the reclamation revolving fund for the purchase of bonds of any districts "authorized by law for the reclamation or development of waste or undeveloped lands," for the purpose of assisting such districts in the financing of projects designed to reclaim and develop lands for agricultural purposes, upon approval of such projects by the director of the department of water resources.

            In response to your first question we discussed the reasons for the establishment and the powers of a public utility district.  Special note is made of RCW 54.16.020 and RCW 54.16.030, quoted earlier.  Taken together, it is our opinion that under these statutes a public utility district is a district which is "authorized by law for the reclamation or development of waste or undeveloped lands" within the meaning of RCW 89.16.040, supra.  Having reached the conclusion, it follows, and you are so advised, that moneys in the state reclamation revolving fund may be expended to purchase bonds of a public utility district issued by the district to finance an irrigation project designed to develop or reclaim lands for agricultural purposes, upon approval of the particular reclamation project by the director.

            Question (4):

            Your final question asks whether the moneys in the reclamation revolving fund may be loaned to an irrigation district to assist the district in financing the development of final engineering plans for an irrigation project which is designed to reclaim lands for agricultural uses.  RCW 89.16.040,supra, expressly declares an irrigation district to be a reclamation district.  Repeated for ease of reference RCW 89.16.050, supra, provides, in pertinent part, that the director of the department of water resources shall be authorized to utilize moneys of the reclamation revolving  [[Orig. Op. Page 9]] fund to:

            ". . . purchase the bonds of any reclamation district whose project is approved by the director and which is found to be upon a sound financial basis,to contract with any such district for making surveys and furnishing engineering plans and supervision for the construction of its project, or for constructing or completing its project and to advance money to the credit of the district for any or all ofsuch purposes, and to accept the bonds, coupon notes or coupon warrants of such district in payment therefor, and to expend the moneys appropriated from the reclamation fund in the purchase of such bonds, notes or warrants or in carrying out such contracts: . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            Therefore, in our opinion, this section clearly authorizes moneys of the reclamation revolving fund to be used to assist in the financing of the engineering plans of an irrigation district project of the type (i.e., reclamation) previously described.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

CHARLES B. ROE, JR.
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/The chapter which originally authorized establishment of public utility districts was an initiative to the legislature, rejected by the legislature February 1, 1929, but passed by a vote of the people at the general election held on November 4, 1930.

2/See, also, RCW 54.16.050 and RCW 54.16.120.

3/Since this conclusion is predicated simply upon the absence of statutory authority, the legislature could, if it so desired, vest such authority in port districts by the enactment of amendatory legislation.

4/RCW 89.16.020 is the third section of chapter 158, Laws of 1919, commonly referred to as the "State Reclamation Act."  See, RCW 89.16.005.  RCW 89.16.010, in pertinent part, sets forth the object of the chapter as follows:

            "The object of this chapter is to provide for the reclamation and development of such of the arid, swamp, overflow, and logged-off lands in the state of Washington as shall be determined to be suitable and economically available for reclamation and development as agricultural lands, and the state of Washington in the exercise of its sovereign and police powers declares the reclamation of such lands to be a state purpose and necessary to the public health, safety and welfare of its people. . . ."

5/By a series of organizational changes in state government, the last of which took place in chapter 242, Laws of 1967, (chapter 43.27A) [[chapter 43.27A RCW]]the "director" now refers to the director of the department of water resources.

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