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Water Rights Reclamation

Waterfall  in the Stetattle Creek Trail, from the North Cascades National Park. Courtesy NPS.

NRS | Federal Lands

As the largest landowner in the arid West, where the public lands often are the upstream source of critical water supply, the United States may assert water rights under both state law and the federal reserved water rights doctrine.

Under the McCarran Amendment, the United States has consented to be sued in state courts for adjudications involving all appropriators in a water basin, and NRS has been at the forefront of critical litigation over this resource.  In addition, pursuant to the Reclamation Act and other authorities, the United States is the dominant developer of water resources nationwide for irrigation and other uses, which has occasioned additional NRS litigation.

Assertion of water rights for federally owned lands and facilities is critical to the mission not only of the West’s many National Parks, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas, but also to the maintenance of the ecological integrity of the multiple use lands and the many uses that depend on them.   Litigation of  these cases involves not only the challenge of obtaining favorable legal rulings in state fora, but also calls for the development of sophisticated trial skills in presentation of the Government’s case through expert testimony, as well as negotiating savvy where the issues can be resolved outside of court.  NRS lawyers have engineered landmark favorable outcomes for the federal government in this critical area.

Due to its interests in the use and development of interstate waters and the operation of federal water projects, the United States’ also participates in actions for the apportionment of interstate streams in which the parties invoke the highly limited original jurisdiction of the United States Supreme Court.

The McCarran Amendment

A Short History

Updated May 12, 2015

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