Water Law and Policy for the Twenty-First Century

Course Information

Registration Information

Meeting Times

Day Time Location
TUE, THU 2:40 - 3:57 pm ONLINE

Evaluation Method

Type Date Time Location


This course will be taught entirely online via Zoom.

My extended description of this Spring’s Water Law and Policy course, below, is intended to respond to the principal questions: What is this policy-intensive, stewardship-motivated water law course geared to offer? And: What will students be expected to do if they take the course? In other words: What am I planning to provide and what will I expect class members to provide?

There is a third matter I mean to highlight. It goes to how the class should unfold online. As to this, please note that I’m in the planning phase for this course; I’ve not yet taught online, having been on research leave; and it would be very instructive for me to learn at this time from students who register for this course what factors have shaped their (your) best and worst experiences in learning online both last Spring and now and what recommendations you’d like to share based on these experiences. (Note: I’m not looking for instructors’ names, just your takeaways regarding online pedagogy.) How to provide this information is this: At the end of the description that follows, I’ve provided an optional questionnaire. It includes invitations for you to provide recommendations for how online classes such as this one can best be run. I also ask about your background as it may prove relevant to the course so I can try to scope out modes of collaboration that would allow you to share information and perspectives derived from coursework, field of study, or experiences you have had. The online setting might make such participatory collaborations easier or more difficult than they are in in-person classes. I want to try to figure that out ahead of time and plan as much as I can for a good and valuable classroom experience online that includes robust participation from members of the class. My planning process would be greatly aided by your help, so I hope you’ll send back the quick questionnaire to contribute your thoughts, for which advance thanks, here!


     This course is founded on the observation that water is essential to every living organism on our planet. It is collected, together with other significant elements of the global commons, under the term “natural resources” and is managed by means of the full panoply of techniques that law, policy, and social practice, generated by an immense array of governance regimes, yield. Through these interventions, people living inside political bounds regulate the allocation and quality of water—including potable water-- that is received by individuals and groups all over the world, utilizing such primary tools as ownership, use, access, and control. These same institutional and social mechanisms shape human impositions on the hydrological cycle, nature’s central schema for regulating the stocks and flows of water, including rivers, lakes, forests, soil water, groundwater, and artificial impoundments all over the globe.

    The essentiality condition and the relative scarcity of accessible freshwater should infuse these efforts with a kind of reverence that finds expression in ethical stewardship, guided by such principles as conservation; restoration; coherence; concern for biodiversity; and social equity and justice, anchored to the meta-principle of shared obligation within regimes of rights. Instead, the trans-historical, trans-national convention has been to treat water as a cheap or even free commodity—except in the case of bottled water!—responsive to the nearly unbridled demands of the agricultural sector, with the remaining sectoral interests dividing and often competing over the rest. This longstanding subservience of ethical regard has encouraged the consistent over-consumption and degradation of water, leaving much of the global population to deal with accelerating problems in water depletion and quality decline, even as the hazards of droughts, floods, and other manifestations of the changing climate increase, promising to make these problems worse. Additionally, limitations on clean water at affordable cost in communities around the world is a limiting factor on the maintenance of public health in the face of the pandemic, when frequent hand-washing is considered a crucial factor in reducing the spread of the virus. In some regions and settings—even within the U.S.--this problem is a present danger. 

     Pundits are wont to predict that conflicts, including some that will threaten national security, will arise. Some already have.

     The existing situation, which has come to tolerate massive vulnerabilities, is unsustainable, no less in our country than anywhere else. Fidelity to ethical principle within the dominant economic and social sectors and across the relevant professional fields; regulatory reforms attentive to legitimate social concerns; new emergency management policies connected to the public health and welfare; scientific advancement toward the wiser management of stocks and flows; social adherence to better practical approaches; inter-disciplinary collaborations that foster innovation within this sphere; improved popular understandings and information flows; responsible regard for risk; public finance shaped by sophisticated institutional design: All of these efforts—and more-- are on. We will attempt to observe at least a sampling of them and, in some instances, to aid the search for new and best practices involving subjects such as these in our course. Your op-ed contributions and research papers can be centered within these topics, if you want.

     We will need a strong foundation of knowledge to render this work valuable. Thus, I invite  students of law, community planning, engineering, hydrogeology and allied fields, and public policy to engage in a study of the federal and state regimes of law, policy, and accepted social practice that regulate the ownership, use, access, and control of water across the United States. We must analyze and reflect carefully on the is to engage in sensible, considered judgments about the ought.  

Note One: Some curricular details:

                  (1) This year, I plan to balance the traditional emphasis on water allocation doctrine with a greater concentration than usual on issues involving water quality.

                  (2) We’ll treat Texas as a kind of living laboratory for the investigation of some subjects within the course.

                  (3) Beyond our needed grounding in legal texts, I’ll include an eclectic assortment of materials from other fields, with the aim of introducing the kind of inter-disciplinary literacy that reflects the needs of today.

                  (4) I’m considering the creation of a special unit on water and the Covid emergency.

                  (5) There is likely to be some participation by guest experts and, possibly, a film.

                  (6) These added components comprise two hours of guaranteed out-of-class meetings, thus reducing the scheduled timeline to 77-minute lectures instead of the standard 81-minute requirement for Spring 2021.

Note Two: Grading Components:

     There is no final examination in this course. A variety of self-directed experiences in learning, including collaborative ones, form its graded components, instead. These experiences will include a written op-ed (opinion-editorial) on a self-selected topic relevant to the course; a research paper that may be jointly-authored on a self-selected topic—this time, with instructor approval required based on relevance to the course and viability; reasonable class attendance and participation—likely, for the baseline version, in panels, with designated dates-- that demonstrates preparation based on the course materials assigned for that date’s class; collaboration with classmates; and the production and presentation of a very short video on the subject of your research. (Don’t worry if you’ve never made a video before. We’ve got excellent instructions and my faculty assistant is a practiced hand at advising in regard to this.) Depending on the state of the pandemic, there may be one self-guided, possibly optional, activity.  (In past years, this activity has involved a “discovery project” at a local store. This year, it could be that or a mindful walk.)

     Descriptions and instructions as to the elements listed above will be distributed to class registrants before the first class day. I’ll also distribute information about my non-office-based meeting times for the term, which might include socially-distanced in-person meetings out of doors.

Note Three: Early Input By You:

    Please see the very brief optional questionnaire. A second thanks if, as soon as proves convenient, you fill it out and send it back.

Textbooks ( * denotes required )

No materials required


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Important Class Changes

Date Updated
11/10/2020 Course is cross listed