Water Law and Climate Change in the United States: A Review of the Scholarship
23 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2020 Last revised: 19 Feb 2020
Date Written: January 2, 2020
Climate change’s effects on water resources have been some of the first realities of ecological change in the Anthropocene, forcing climate change adaptation efforts even as the international community seeks to mitigate climate change. Water law has thus become one vehicle of climate change adaptation. Research into the intersections between climate change and water law in the United States must contend with the facts that: (1) climate change affects different parts of this large country differently; and (2) United States water law is itself a complicated subject, with each state having its own laws for surface water and groundwater and the federal government playing a significant role in interstate and international waters, in building and managing large water infrastructure, and in creating water rights for Native American tribes and other federal reservations. Within this complexity, legal research to date has tended to focus on the law governing surface water in the American West, enumerating various problems with the prior appropriation doctrine as the West grows hotter and drier and offering multiple suggestions to increase legal flexibility so that western water can be re-allocated to reflect changing social-ecological realities. These suggestions extend to new, more comprehensive, and more adaptive water governance approaches. Far less scholarly attention has focused on eastern riparian rights, the various groundwater doctrines at play in the United States, or the increasing role of tribes in managing water resources, but these areas warrant future attention.
Keywords: climate change, water law, scholarship, prior appropriation, riparian rights, groundwater law, global warming, drought, water shortage
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