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Supreme Court: Maryland all wet about Potomac River

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Virginia has the right to draw water from the Potomac River and to build a 725-foot pipe extending from its shore, free from interference from Maryland, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The high court voted 7-2 to settle a case between the two states over control of the river, which has been disputed for nearly 400 years.

The Potomac River, which flows for nearly 400 miles before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay, forms the boundary between Maryland on the north and Virginia on the south.

The dispute arose after the Fairfax County Water Authority in Virginia sought permits from Maryland in 1996 to construct the pipe extending 725 feet from its shore above the river's tidal reach. The project seeks to improve water quality for county residents.

Maryland officials opposed construction on the grounds it would facilitate urban sprawl in Virginia. In 1997, the Maryland Department of the Environment rejected the requested permit.

Virginia filed a complaint with the Supreme Court, which settles disputes between the states. A court-appointed special master ruled for Virginia.

In the court's majority opinion, Chief Justice William Rehnquist upheld that decision. He cited a 1785 compact between the two states and a 1877 arbitration agreement on the river's boundary, a finding ratified by both state Legislatures and approved by the Congress.

Rehnquist said nothing in one section of the agreement suggests Virginia's rights are subject to Maryland's regulation.

Justices John Paul Stevens and Anthony Kennedy dissented. Stevens said virtually the entire river is located in Maryland and Maryland should exercise regulatory jurisdiction over it.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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