Water law presents a unique mix of federal and state regulatory regimes over a resource that is scarce yet ubiquitous and, of course, essential to life. In this course, we will consider different rights regimes for water, including prior appropriation, riparian rights and groundwater rights. We will also look at how the public trust doctrine and environmental protection can affect those water rights. Although we will consider water law at a national level, most water law is managed at the state level and we will focus on the western United States, particularly California. Our objective will be to not just learn how water has been regulated over time but to also develop an understanding of the benefits and challenges of the various rights regimes in the climate change era of increasing droughts and floods.
Among the specific topics to be discussed are: common-law riparianism and its 20th century varieties; the prior appropriation doctrine, permit systems, and the loss of appropriative rights; pueblo rights; water markets; groundwater doctrines; water organizations both public and private; federal reclamation; federalism conflicts, and interstate conflicts, with particular attention to the Law of the Colorado River; water pollution; and drinking water.