Water Law


Water is at the heart of agriculture. Without water, crops and livestock would not be able to survive. Water used in agricultural production can come from surface waters, such as rivers, lakes, streams, and ponds, or from groundwater, such as an aquifer. The allocation of this important resource is left up to each state, with very little federal intervention. Each state has its own regulatory system to allocate both the surface waters and the groundwater in the state.  Read the full overview

***Many important legal issues are presented by the use of water in agriculture. This reading room will deal with quantity issues, such as, allocation, irrigation, and other problems common to agriculture’s use of water. For quality issues involving water please see the Clean Water Act Reading RoomEnvironmental Law Reading Room, and Pesticides Reading Room. These reading rooms look closely at the quality issues in water.

Note: Recently added resources are posted at the top of the applicable sections.

Major Statutes

Federal Statutes

Clean Water Act (original title: Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments of 1972), 33 U.S.C. §§ 1251-1388
Coastal Zone Management Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1451 – 1466
Desert Lands Act of 1877, 43 U.S.C. §§ 321 – 339
Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 791a – 823g
Flood Control Acts, 33 U.S.C. §§ 701 – 709b
McCarran Amendment, 43 U.S.C. § 666
Mining Act of 1866, 30 U.S.C. §§ 21 – 54
Reclamation Act of 1902, 43 U.S.C. §§ 371 – 390h-39
Reclamation Reform Act of 1982, 43 U.S.C. §§ 390aa – 390zz-1
Safe Drinking Water Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 300f – 300j-27
Water Resources Development Acts, 33 U.S.C. §§ 2201 – 2355
Water Resources Research Act of 1984, 42 U.S.C. §§ 10301 – 10310
Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, 16 U.S.C. §§ 1271 – 1287


Title 18 – Conservation of Power and Water Resources, 18 CFR 18
Title 21 – Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packaging, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption, 21 CFR Part 112, Subpart E (agricultural water)
Title 33 – Navigation and Navigable Waters

33 CFR Part 328 – Definition of Waters of the United States
33 CFR Part 329 – Definition of Navigable Waters of the United States

Title 40 – Subchapter D – Water Programs

National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) – beginning at Part 122
Water Quality Planning and Management – beginning at Part 130
National Primary Drinking Water Regulations – beginning at Part 141

Title 40 – Subchapter H – Ocean Dumping, Part 231 – Section 404 (c) [of the Clean Water Act] Procedures
Title 40 – Subchapter N – Effluent Standards and Guidelines
Title 43 – Bureau of Reclamation Regulations, 43 CFR Parts 402-999

Case Law

Case Law Index for Water Law

Congressional Research Service Reports

Reports – published and made available by CRS beginning in 2017
Subjects – published by CRS and made available by NALC until 2018:

Environmental Issues
Public Lands
Water Resources

Center Research Publications

High-Capacity Wells: A Survey of Groundwater Withdrawal Rights and Regulations (Reid et al; 2021)
Waters of the United States: Timeline of Definitions (Rollins, 2020)
Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality: Recent Litigation in the United States (Essman & Hivick; 2020)
Mandatory Legal Approaches to Agricultural Nutrient Management (Essman & Brown; last Updated 2020)
State Legal Approaches to Reducing Water Quality Impacts from the Use of Agricultural Nutrients on Farmland (Hall and Essman, 2019)
Issue Brief: Conduit Theory Under the Clean Water Act (Barker and R. Rumley, 2019)
Exempt Wells and Agriculture (Richardson and Aloi, 2017)
Water Rights Table (Richardson and Aloi, 2017)
Water Quality Credit Trading: A Primer of Background Material (Jackson, 2010)
The Clean Water Act: Current Status and Potential Changes (R. Rumley, 2010)
The Clean Water Authority Restoration Act: A Primer of Background Material (Goeringer and R. Rumley, 2009)
State Listings: Water Law Offices (Goeringer and Boyd, 2009)
How the Concept of Navigability May Determine the Rights of Landowners Along Streams (Looney, 2002)
Clarifying NPDES Requirements for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (Centner, 2007)

Agricultural Law Bibliography

Introduction   |   Keyword Search   |   Browse Categories

Legal publications on Water Law:

Environmental Issues
Land Use Regulation
Pesticides, Herbicides, Insecticides, Fungicides, Fertilizers
Public Lands
Water Rights: Agriculturally Related

Federal Resources

Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
Water Availability and Watershed Management

Economic Research Service (ERS)

Conservation Programs
Irrigation and Water Use

US Forest Service (FS)

Climate Change Resource Center
Fisheries Program
Groundwater Program

National Agriculture Library (NAL)

Agricultural Law Information Partnership (ALIP)
Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC)
Water Resources of the United States
Water and Agriculture Information Center (WAIC)
Water Quality

National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS)

National Water & Climate Center (NWCC)
Snow Survey & Water Supply Forecasting Programs
National Water Management Center (NWMC)
Water Management
Irrigation and Water Management
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)
Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP)
Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Operations Program
Wetland Reserve Easements
Water and Environmental Programs
Water and Waste Disposal Loan and Grant Program

Department of Defense

US Army Corps of Engineers
Digital Library

Department of Energy (DOE)

Best Management Practices for Water Efficiency
Rainwater Harvesting Tool
Water Power Technologies Office
Water Evaluation Tools

Department of the Interior (DOI)

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
Aquatic Resources
Water Resource Program Strategy (2015-2020)

Bureau of Reclamation (USBR)

AgriMet / HydroMet – Cooperative Agricultural Weather Network
USBR Reclamation Manual
Water Conservation Field Services Program
Water Operations
Colorado River Basin

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – Water

Drinking Water – Source Water Protection
Water Bodies – Healthy Watersheds Protection
Pollution Prevention and Monitoring
Polluted Runoff (NPS)
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System
Nutrient Pollution
Summary of the Clean Water Act
Clean Water Act Section 303(d): Impaired Waters and Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs)
Water Quality Standards: Regulations and Resources
National Water Quality Monitoring Council

National Park Service

Water Resources Division

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)

Water Resources Mission Area
Water Resources Glossaries
Water Resources Publications

Congressional Resources

House Committee on Natural Resources
Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Wildlife

Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources 
Subcommittee on Water and Power

State Constitutions

A number of states address state ownership of and public rights to water resources in their constitutions.

Alaska Const. art. VIII, § 13
Arizona Const. art. XVII, §§ 1-2
California Const. art. X, §§ 1-7
Colorado Const. art. XVI, §§ 5-8
Florida Const. art., II, § 7
Hawaii Const. art. XI, § 7
Idaho Const. art. XV, §§ 1-7
Minnesota Const. art. 2, § 2
Montana Const. art. IX, § 3
Nebraska Const. art. XV, §§ 4-7
North Carolina Const. art. XIV, § 5
North Dakota Const. art. XI, § 3
New Mexico Const. art. XVI, §§ 1-6
Oregon Const. art. XI-D, § XI-I (1)
Pennsylvania Const. art. 1, § 27
Washington Const. art. XXI, § 1
Wisconsin Const. art. IX, § 1
Wyoming Const. art. VIII, §§ 1-5

Compilation of States’ Water Law Statutes

State Water Statutes

US Organizations and Resources

American Academy of Water Resources Engineers (AAWRE)
American Water Resources Association (AWRA)
American Water Works Association (AWWA)
Environmental and Water Resources Institute (EWRI)
The Water Underground: Implications for Agriculture and Opportunities for Change
National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA)
Appalachian Community Technical Assistance and Training (West Virginia U.)
National Groundwater Association (NGWA)
Groundwater Information Sheets
National Water Resources Association (NWRA)
Master Water Stewards
Tulane Institute on Water Resources Law & Policy
Universities Council on Water Resources (UCOWR)
US Water Alliance
US Water Partnership (USWP)
Water Education Foundation
Water Environment Federation (WEF)
Water in the West (Stanford University)
Water Finance: The Imperative for Water Security and Economic Growth (Water in the West 2018)
Environmental Water Rights Transfers (2015)
Water Research Foundation

International Organizations and Resources

Great Lakes Commission (GLC)
International Boundary & Water Commission (IBWC)
International Joint Commission (IJC)
International Water Association (IWA)
International Water Management Institute (IMWI)
International Water Resources Association (IWRA)
Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)
United Nations – Water
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization – Water Management
United Nations Human Rights – WaSH Standards
Water Footprint Network
World Bank – Water Resources Management
World Water Council