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University of Iowa News Release


Sept. 13, 2011

College of Law class looks at what to do with all this water

Iowa has had its share of too much water in the last few years, and a new class offered this fall in the University of Iowa College of Law will look at the legal issues of how the resource is managed.

Even before this summer's flooding on the Missouri River, Iowa was besieged with excess water that caused so much ruin along the Cedar and Iowa Rivers in 2008, and caused the Lake Delhi dam to collapse last year.

All of which has put a sharp focus in the state on water and the laws relating to how it's allocated and managed. Jonathan Carlson, UI professor of law and international studies, said he developed the Water Law class after reading more and more about laws relating to water and their increasing relevance.

In the recent Iowa incidents, for instance, he said the Lake Delhi dam collapse demonstrates the difference between dams that are managed by state and federal governments. Meanwhile, on the Missouri River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been accused of making this summer's flooding worse by its handling of the dams it manages.

The class will focus on how water is managed and allocated as a natural resource, Carlson said, especially in areas of the United States where water is increasingly scarce but populations keep growing.

"Water issues are becoming more frequent and are only going to become more relevant because of our growing populations and increasing stress on water resources," said Carlson, who is also an environmental law expert. He pointed out that many cities and states have put restrictions on commercial and residential development that require developers to ensure they have access to sufficient water sources.

While Iowa and other parts of the country have had too much water, Carlson said water issues are most pressing in places where there isn't enough. This month's Texas wildfires, for instance, are the result of years of inadequate rainfall. The situation is so bad that a group of Texas communities recently spent more than $100 million for water rights owned by billionaire T. Boone Pickens.

Meanwhile, Florida and Georgia have fought a 20-year battle over a water source shared by those two states, while preservationists and energy companies are locked in a legal battle over the Powder River in Montana and Wyoming. Preservationists want to maintain the river for its pristine beauty while energy companies want to use its water in their coal mines that employ thousands of workers.

Water law impacts the international level, too, Carlson said. Canada and the United States are currently in a dispute over how to handle excess water flowing from lakes in North Dakota. U.S. plans are to divert the water into rivers and streams that flow into Canada, but Canadian authorities worry that will import harmful aquatic species into their own lakes and rivers.

"Water law is a fascinating blend of policy, history, power and constitutional principle, and it's hugely important to many individual developers, farmers and other landowners," Carlson said, cutting across so many legal fields that law school graduates will find it helpful to have some background in it regardless of what area they practice.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACTS: Jonathan Carlson, professor of law, 319-335-9026,; Tom Snee, 319-384-0010 (office), 319-541-8434 (cell),