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Ward County Irrigation District No. 1 v. Red Bluff Water Power Control District

Court of Appeals of Texas, Eighth District, El Paso

June 30, 2005

WARD COUNTY IRRIGATION DISTRICT NO. 1, WARD COUNTY IRRIGATION DISTRICT NO. 3, and REEVES COUNTY WATER IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT NO. 2, Appellants
v.
RED BLUFF WATER POWER CONTROL DISTRICT, Appellee.

          Appeal from 143rd District Court of Ward County, Texas (TC# 04-05-20749-CVW)

          Before Barajas, C.J., McClure, and Chew, JJ.

          OPINION

          ANN CRAWFORD McCLURE, JUSTICE

         Ward County Irrigation District No. 1 (Ward District 1), Ward County Irrigation District No. 3 (Ward District 3), and Reeves County Water Improvement District No. 2 (Reeves District 2) appeal from a judgment declaring that the two irrigation districts, following their conversion from water improvement districts, are no longer members of the Red Bluff Water Power Control District (Red Bluff District), and therefore, are not entitled to elect a director to serve on the Red Bluff District's board of directors. We reverse and render.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL SUMMARY

         In 1933, the Legislature enacted Articles 7807d and 7807dd which provided for the organization and government of water improvement districts and water power control districts. [1] Ward District 1, Ward District 3, Reeves District 2, and four other water improvement districts have been member districts or divisions of the Red Bluff District since 1934 when the latter became a water power control district and obtained authority to construct and maintain the Red Bluff Dam and Reservoir on the Pecos River. Since the Red Bluff Dam was constructed, a primary function of the Red Bluff District and its seven divisions has been to supply irrigation water to landowners for agricultural purposes. As required by Article 7807d, the Red Bluff District entered into a master contract with its member divisions in 1934. The master contract specifies the rights and obligations of the parties and establishes each division's pro rata interest in the Red Bluff District and the water to be distributed.

         Each of the seven divisions is governed by its own board of directors elected from the district. The Red Bluff District is also governed by a board of directors with one director elected from each division. In elections conducted in water improvement districts and water power control districts, voter qualification is based upon residency in the district. In 2001 and 2003, respectively, Ward District 1 and Ward District 3 converted from water improvement districts operating under Chapter 55 of the Water Code to limited purpose irrigation districts operating under Chapter 58 of the Texas Water Code. [2] Both Ward District 1 and Ward District 3 expressly reserved their powers under Texas Water Code Sections 55.165 (pertaining to drainage ditches and levees) and 55.193 (pertaining to selling water rights) so that they could continue to function in harmony within the Red Bluff District. As a result of the conversion, voter qualification in elections conducted by the irrigation districts is now based upon land ownership as specified in Section 58.022 of the Water Code.

         An election for the Red Bluff District board of directors was scheduled to be held on May15, 2004 in Ward District 1 and Ward District 3. Because Tom Nance (Ward District 1) and Ava Gerke (Ward District 3) were unopposed, the election was canceled and the two candidates were declared to be the elected directors of their respective districts. The Red Bluff District, however, refused to seat them on the board of directors. [3]

         The Red Bluff District subsequently filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that Ward District 1 and Ward District 3 were no longer members of the Red Bluff District, and therefore, were not entitled to have directors on the Red Bluff District board of directors. Ward District 1 and Ward District 3 answered and counterclaimed for declaratory and injunctive relief. Reeves District 2 filed a petition in intervention in support of the Ward districts.

         Following a bench trial, the court entered judgment in favor of the Red Bluff District declaring that: (1) Ward District 1 and Ward District 3 are no longer members of the Red Bluff District and are not entitled to elect from their districts a member to the Red Bluff board of directors; (2) the judgment does not abrogate the contractual rights and obligations of the Ward District under the master contract; and (3) the judgment does not abrogate the rights of the Ward Districts to receive funds from the Pecos River Compact account. [4] The trial court found against the Ward and Reeves Districts on their claims for affirmative relief and awarded attorney's fees to the Red Bluff District. At the request of the parties, the trial court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law. Among other things, the court concluded that its judgment did not disenfranchise any qualified voter residents within the Red Bluff District boundaries because these voters may vote in the nearest division to their residence. The Ward and Reeves Districts filed notices of appeal.

         STATUS OF THE WARD DISTRICTS

         Raising multiple issues, all three Appellants challenge the trial court's conclusion that the conversion of Ward District 1 and Ward District 3 from water improvement districts to irrigation districts disqualifies them as organized divisions of the Red Bluff District entitled to elect a director to serve on Red Bluff's board of directors. Appellants argue that Articles 7807d and 7807dd must be considered in light of and harmonized with subsequent changes in law, including the enactment of Section 58.038 which permits a water improvement district to convert to a Chapter 58 irrigation district. According to Appellants, these changes in the law since 1933 indicate that application of Article 7807d must not be restricted to water improvement districts. As the facts are undisputed, this issue turns on the construction of Articles 7807d and 7807dd and various provisions of the Water Code.

         Standard of Review

         Statutory construction is a question of law which we review de novo. Texas Department of Transportation v. Needham, 82 S.W.3d 314, 318 (Tex. 2002). In interpreting a statute, a court must diligently attempt to ascertain legislative intent and must keep in mind the old law, the evil, and the remedy. Tex.Gov't Code Ann. § 312.005 (Vernon 2005). Further, we must interpret the statute in a manner that gives effect to the plain meaning of the statute's words and effectuates the Legislature's intent. State v. Gonzalez, 82 S.W.3d 322, 327 (Tex. 2002). Legislative intent should be determined by reading the language used and construing the statute in its entirety. See In re Bay Area Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse, 982 S.W.2d 371, 380 (Tex. 1998); Taylor v. Firemen's & Policemen's Civil Service Commission, 616 S.W.2d 187, 190 (Tex. 1981). We should read every word, phrase, and expression as if it were deliberately chosen, and presume that words excluded from the statute were excluded purposefully. Gables Realty Ltd. Partnership v. Travis Central Appraisal District, 81 S.W.3d 869, 873 (Tex.App.--Austin 2002, pet. denied). We must also presume that: (1) compliance with the state and federal constitutions is intended; (2) the entire statute is intended to be effective; (3) a just and reasonable result is intended; (4) a result feasible of execution is intended; and (5) public interest is favored over any private interest. Tex.Gov't Code Ann. § 311.021. Regardless of whether the statute is ambiguous, we may consider, among other matters, the object the statute seeks to obtain, the circumstances under which the statute was enacted, legislative history, common law or former statutory provisions, including laws on the same or similar subjects, and the consequences of a particular construction. Tex.Gov't Code Ann. § 311.023. Additionally, the court must consider "the consequences that would follow" from its construction of a statute and avoid absurd results. Sharp v. House of Lloyd, Inc., 815 S.W.2d 245, 249 (Tex. 1991). Finally, we presume that the Legislature enacted a statute with complete knowledge of the existing law and with reference to it. Acker v. Texas Water Commission, 790 S.W.2d 299, 301 (Tex. 1990).

         Historical Background

         A review of the historical background of Texas law enacted to encourage irrigation in the arid parts of the state is helpful to our analysis of Articles 7807d and 7807dd. In 1889, the Legislature enacted the first law to encourage irrigation and provide for the acquisition of the right to the use of water in the arid parts of the state. See Act of March 19, 1889, 21st Leg., ch. 88, 1889 Tex.Gen.Laws 100. That Act declared that the unappropriated waters of every river or natural stream within the arid portions of the state are the property of the public and may be acquired for irrigation, domestic and other beneficial uses. Id. It provided for the construction and maintenance of canals, ditches, reservoirs, and wells for irrigation by corporations formed and chartered under the Act. Id. Corporations so created could acquire land and borrow money for the construction, maintenance, and operation of its canals, ditches, flumes, feeders, reservoirs, and wells, and could issue bonds and mortgage its corporate property to secure the payment of any debt contracted for these purposes. Id.

         In 1904, the citizens of Texas approved a constitutional amendment which authorized any political division or defined district to authorize, by a two-thirds vote, the issuance of bonds, the levy and collection of taxes to pay the interest thereon, and to provide a sinking fund for the bonds' redemption. Tex.Const. art. 3, § 52(b). The bonds could be issued for (1) the improvement of rivers, creeks, and streams to prevent overflows, and to permit navigation or irrigation; and (2) the construction and maintenance of pools, lakes, reservoirs, dams, canals and waterways for the purposes of irrigation, drainage or navigation. Id. The amount of bonds issued by the district could not exceed one-fourth of the assessed valuation of real property within the district. Id. Pursuant to Article 3, § 52(b), the Legislature in 1905 enacted legislation authorizing the creation of public irrigation districts. See Acts of 1905, 29th Leg., R.S., ch. 122, 1905 Tex.Gen.Laws 235; see also Hidalgo County Water Control & Improvement District No. 1 v. Hidalgo County, 134 S.W.2d 464, 467 (Tex.Civ.App.--San Antonio 1939, writ ref'd).

         In 1913, the Legislature repealed the 1905 law and enacted a new law pertaining to irrigation districts. See Acts of 1913, 33rd Leg., R.S., ch. 172, 1913 Tex.Gen.Laws 380; Acts of 1913, 33rd Leg., R.S., ch. 172, § 105, 1913 Tex.Gen.Laws 408. Just four years later, the Legislature repealed the 1913 law and replaced it with a new law pertaining to water improvement districts. Act of March 19, 1917, 35th Leg., R.S., ch. 87, 1917 Tex.Gen.Laws 172; Act of March 19, 1917, 35th Leg., R.S., ch. 87, § 107, 1917 Tex.Gen.Laws 206; see Hidalgo County Water Control & Improvement District, 134 S.W.2d at 467. Irrigation districts organized under the former law, such as Ward County Irrigation District No. 1, were declared to be valid but would operate under the new law applicable to water improvement districts.

         During this same legislative session, it was recognized that the restrictions imposed by Article 3, § 52(b) on the amount of indebtedness had the effect of restricting irrigation development rather than encouraging it. See Tex.Const. art. 3, § 52(b), Interpretive Commentary. Thus, Article16, § 59, also known as the Conservation Amendment, was added to the constitution allowing the creation of conservation and reclamation districts as governmental agencies with the power to incur such debts as might be necessary. Id. At a called session of the same Legislature, two acts were passed for the purpose of effectuating the Conservation Amendment: the Canales Act [5] and the Laney Act. [6] The Canales Act provided for the creation of conservation and reclamation districts with the powers of water improvement districts and it authorized existing water improvement districts and irrigation districts to convert to a conservation and reclamation district with the benefits of the Conservation Amendment without a change of name.

         In 1925, the Legislature enacted new legislation providing for the organization of water control and improvement districts under and in accordance with the provisions of Article 3, § 52 or Article 16, § 59. See Acts 1925, 39th Leg., R.S., ch. 25, 1925 Tex.Gen.Laws 86 (Tex.Rev.Civ.Stat. art. 7880-1 et seq. and later codified in Chapter 51 of the Texas Water Code). [7] This legislation permitted the conversion of any existing water improvement district or irrigation district to a water control and improvement district. [8] See Acts 1925, 39th Leg., R.S., ch. 25, § 143, 1925 Tex.Gen.Laws 132.

         The Red Bluff District was initially created in 1928 as a water improvement district covering portions of Reeves, Ward, Loving, and Pecos Counties. It embraced within its boundaries seven water improvement districts: (1) Loving County Water Improvement District No. 1; (2) Reeves County Water Improvement District No. 2; (3) Ward County Water Improvement District No. 3; (4) Ward County Irrigation District No. 1; [9] (5) Ward County Water ...


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