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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

It's World Water Day! Does Your Law School Offer a Water Law Course?

Today is World Water Day. In celebration, I hope to convince you that your law school should offer a course in water law, if it isn’t already offered. I’ve talked to plenty of law professors who say, “Well, we don’t offer water law at my school. We’re in the [insert any non-arid part of the country], so we don’t really have major water issues.” Here’s the thing… it doesn’t matter in which area of law you are interested and in what part of the country you live… We all have major water issues. Because of that, all law students should have at least the opportunity of educating themselves about water law.

We all share major water issues. Even controlling for climate change, population growth and economic development mean that the world's human population will need 50% more fresh water by 2030. Climate change aggravates that problem by making water variability (drought and flood cycles) more severe in many parts of the world. Water resource management plays a critical role in the cost and availability of energy, food, and housing. Over 6,000 children under the age of 5 will die today because of treatable and preventable water-borne illnesses, to say nothing of those that die from water-related diseases (like malaria).

From a more narrow geographic perspective, each region of this country faces critical water issues. Great Lakes Region. The South and Southeast. The Great Plains. The Pacific Northwest. States throughout the country dealing with issues surrounding fracking. These are only a few examples from a few regions – believe, I could go on all day. And this is to say nothing of the water issues facing the arid states of the West, which are well known and impact everyone both inside and outside of that region.

Now you might say, “We have water law covered as part of our natural resource law class, or energy law class, or environmental law class.” To me, that is tantamount to saying, “We have bankruptcy and tax law covered, because we take a few days of class to talk about them in contract law and business organizations.” I think most people would agree that a couple of days on tax or bankruptcy within a larger survey course do not do those subjects justice, given their importance, scope, and complexity. The same argument applies to water law.

You might then say, “But there are a lot of jobs in bankruptcy and tax law, and not as many jobs in water law.” In that case, you might be right depending on the region. But as greater demand is placed on water supplies, I think we will see more and more jobs in the water sector. We may see more bankruptcy in water than money in the coming decades. The theme for World Water Day this year is “Better Water, Better Jobs," a reflection of the growing demand for water expertise. But water law is also important to understand to be a more effective lawyer in other areas of the law. Environmental law, energy law, climate change, agricultural law, food law, endangered species protection, real estate transactions, and land use all have obvious and important intersections with water law. But knowledge of water law can help inform the study and practice of other areas of law, including immigration law, national security law, public international law, law of armed conflict, human rights law, tax law, international trade and investment law, public health law, legal issues in gender and racial equality, freedom of religion, interstate commerce, intellectual property, and space law.

Maybe you'll say, "We can't find someone to teach water law." I'd be happy to help you find someone, whether an adjunct, visitor, or permanent faculty, and help them prepare the class. You might then respond, “Well, we just wouldn’t get a good enrollment in a water law class.” Our water law class had an enrollment of over 90 students this past semester, and over 60 the year before. If you effectively introduce students to water law in their first year property course and help them see its importance, I think you’ll find that they will be thirsty for more.


Posted by Rhett Larson on March 22, 2016 at 05:01 PM | Permalink


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