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Published (as Chapter 13) in J. W. Dellapenna and J. Gupta (eds.), The Evolution of the Law and Politics of Water (2009), pp. 205–223. Copyright © 2009 Springer Science + Business Media B.V. Used by permission.


This essay traces the emergence of environmental considerations in U.S. water law, beginning with colonial America and proceeding through the Gilded Age of industrialization, the Progressive Era of wise use, the New Deal and the rise of the federal administrative state, and the modern environmental era. Early on, environmental challenges were addressed haphazardly. The federal government influenced water policy through navigational enhancements, reclamation works, and flood control, while state and local law governed water rights and public health issues. The 1970s brought uniform federal effluent limitations and protections for endangered species. The dawn of the twenty-first century increasingly sees collaborative restoration initiatives that draw on the strengths of federal, state, tribal, and local governments and citizens.

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