Water Use, Management, and Planning in the United States

By Allen, Marcus T. | Journal of Real Estate Literature, January 1, 2000 | Go to article overview

Water Use, Management, and Planning in the United States


Allen, Marcus T., Journal of Real Estate Literature


Thompson, Stephen A., Water Use, Management, and Planning in the United States, Academic Press, -1999,371 pages.--

Of all the natural resources available, water and air are arguably the most important to sustained life on this planet. Unlike air, however, the uneven distribution of water across space and time means that it is not always available where it is needed, when it is needed, in the quantity needed or of the quality required. From this starting point, Stephen A. Thompson, a geography professor at Millersville University in Pennsylvania, has written a lucid discussion about the way water is used in the United States. Although the book is intended to serve as an introductory text for upperdivision undergraduate and first-year graduate students of the natural sciences, the depth, rigor, and interdisciplinary style of the text make it an excellent resource for anyone who desires a better understanding of water use and management in this country.

The opening chapter introduces the hydrological system in which all the water on Earth exists. While the total amount of water in the system is fixed, the amounts in any given component are subject to changes and can dramatically impact our socioeconomic systems. Thompson's discussions of the hydrological system and the terms and phrases used by water resource researchers and professionals are clear and informative.

In the second chapter, Thompson discusses the history of water resources in the U.S., placing considerable emphasis on the change in attitudes toward water resources as evidenced by federal legislation since the nation's founding. Thompson concludes that the current attitude toward water resources is one of "sustainable" use, though the exact definition of this term proves to be quite elusive to most water planners.

The discussion of water law presented in the third chapter is rigorously researched and may be the most useful section of the text for real estate related scholars and practitioners. While the terms "riparian rights" and "prior appropriation theory" appear in many real estate texts, Thompson's tracing of the legal and economic development of the doctrines behind these concepts helps clear away the cobwebs that often creep in when we cover these topics in our courses, Recall that in the basic riparian doctrine, the owners of land adjacent to a stream or lake have equal rights to use the water, and that rights transfer to subsequent owners in the event of title transfers. Under the basic prior appropriation doctrine, water rights are owned by the first person to put the water to productive use. As long as the use continues, the appropriator has full fight to use as much water as needed.

Thompson points out five importance differences between the riparian doctrine and the prior appropriation doctrine. These are:

I .The right is derived from and tied to the ownership of ripman land in the riparian system; under prior appropriation, the right is given to someone who diverts the water and applies it to a beneficial use. …

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