Course - Law


Recommended Courses:



The course in Water Law traditionally emphasizes state law rules that govern rights to use surface water and groundwater throughout the country.  Although we will give ample attention to the prior appropriation doctrine, riparian water rights, and various systems for regulating groundwater use, this course will also emphasize how federal law may impact water rights.  Increasingly, environmentalists and others claim that there are public rights to water that may take precedence over rights under the prior appropriation system.


There is a saying about water that it "flows uphill to wealth and power."  We will attempt to understand how politics and economics shape water law doctrines.  We will also draw on the science of hydrology, which will shed light on the important contemporary problem of how  groundwater pumping interferes with surface flows and often devastates riparian habitats.  We will also examine the struggle over how to allocate Colorado River water, which has a long history but contemporary ramifications.


We also will consider the role of federal law, particularly federal reserved water rights claimed by Indian tribes, and the federal government's long history of attempting to irrigate the West through its Bureau of Reclamation.  This latter topic concludes with an analysis of the Central Arizona Project.  Finally, we will briefly consider how environmental concerns over water quality may on occasion impact water quantity allocation decisions and water rights.


Required:  Joseph L. Sax, Barton H. Thompson, Jr., John D. Leshy, and Robert H. Abrams, Legal Control of Water Resources (4th ed. 2006).  In addition, there will be photocopies of supplementary materials that I will post on Forums.


Recommended:  Robert Glennon, Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What To Do About It (Island Pres, 2009).  Robert Glennon, Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America's Fresh Waters (Island Press, 2002).  Multiple copies of both books will be on library reserve.

Course Format

Lecture & discussion.

Written Assignments  
Type of Exam

Multiple Choice

Basis for grading

Grades will be based on the examination and class participation.

Additional Comments

We will draw heavily on other disciplines for insight into Water Law.  Graduate students from other colleges in the University are welcome to take or audit this course.


Note:  The schedule shows Friday class meetings.  Those reflect make-up classes that will meet for the most part for the first month of classes only.

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