Water Law and Policy for the Twenty-First Century

Course Information

Registration Information

Meeting Times

Day Time Location
MON, WED 11:50 am - 1:05 pm TNH 3.127

Evaluation Method

Type Date Time Location


Same as LAW 376L, Water Law and Policy for the Twenty-First Century.

Water is essential to the existence of all living things on this, our “blue” planet, including, of course, us. As the planet is seventy percent water, so, it happens, are we. As the character in a 2011 novel put this, “We exist only as a film on the water.” If that suggests itself as a fragile state of affairs, that’s because, increasingly, it is.

          The earth’s hydrological cycle—regulator of the freshwater/saltwater balance that sustains our bodies, our food networks, our geographic placements—is increasingly perturbed, a function of the ongoing disturbance of the planet’s natural systems under conditions to which our society, all societies, must quickly learn to adapt. We are in the process of inventing a new existential curriculum, one based on the need to live with careful attention to a myriad of challenging, earth-system-dependent details.

          What might “adaptation” mean—what can it mean? what should it mean?-- for one of the most stabilizing traditions on which we depend—law; its symbiotic policy matrix; its case-law-based jurisprudence of private conflict resolution, relied on for fostering incremental, small-bore movement by design? The crises engendered by climate change and the stabilizing, slow-moving features that characterize our legal tradition do not easily converge.

          Emergent issues and questions fall heavily—uneasily—on water law, one of the oldest branches of American law, embossed with the early norms and rules of soggy England; its later developments tentacular and disjunctive, dependent on regions; states; a late-arriving, compromised federal presence; and on property law, rooted in notions and conflicts about land.   

          Five further matters of note:

(1) Our approach to each unit of material will be solidly planted in the legal tradition and relevant policy, including their rationales, and norms. Only after an introduction to foundational knowledge of each major component of the system in place may we reasonably engage in exploration, evaluation, and critique-- and we will, as we go along.

(2) The approach and materials will be inter-disciplinary and include basic hydrology/hydrogeology; climate science; (a possible smidge of) engineering; policy analysis; political governance; climate ethics and environmental ethics (environmental justice). Our forms of engagement: mostly reading; writing; some guests; some film, including videos made by you.

(3) We may treat Texas water law and policy as a kind of learning lab. We’ll occasionally look to developments outside the U.S.

(4) Units will be covered through lecture and collaborative as well as individual student enterprise. I mean to foster collaborative engagement.

(5) The course and student evaluation will depend on reading, discussion, writing, and, as to the final paper, research. There will be no exam.

Textbooks ( * denotes required )

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Important Class Changes

Date Updated
10/26/2021 Room(s) changed
New Course