Water Law – 6126

This course examines the legal mechanisms by which society allocates and protects its most vital natural resource: water.  The primary emphasis is on current legal and policy issues, but the course also addresses significant aspects of the historical development of water policy and water law in the United States.  The course explores the following topics:

  • the riparian and prior appropriation doctrines and modern administrative permitting schemes governing private uses of surface water and groundwater
  • public rights in water resources
  • federal and state water resource development, allocation, and control
  • alternative means of responding to the growing scarcity of fresh water and adapting to changes in the hydrological cycle due to climate change
  • the appropriate role for market-based approaches
  • allocation and protection of groundwater resources
  • environmental limits on water development, including inter alia the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the public trust doctrine
  • watershed protection and restoration
  • tribal water rights
  • the doctrine of federal reserved water rights
  • mechanisms for resolving or avoiding interstate and international conflicts over, and providing joint management of, transboundary water resources

Courses in Water Law have traditionally emphasized issues arising in the arid Western United States, where historically conflicts over competing claims on water resources have been most acute.  Even as these conflicts intensify in the West, however, the comparatively water-rich Eastern United States is also becoming increasingly water-constrained, prompting reconsideration of longstanding legal doctrines and policies.  This course will attempt to balance Western and Eastern U.S, perspectives, while also addressing some important international developments including (but not limited to) efforts to manage water resources in the Great Lakes.

Subject Area
Administrative & Regulatory Law
Environmental & Energy Law *
Student Year
Upper Division
Course type