Water resources law is focused on the regulations of water as a resource in the United States, serving the needs of businesses and developers, farmers and ranchers, non-profit organizations, and public agencies. Water law attorneys typically work for local governments, utilities, private developers, state or federal agencies, or private firms that specialize in environmental law. On the law firm or non-profit organization side of the practice, lawyers help clients get water rights, defend water rights, transfer water rights or challenge water rights. On the regulatory side, they determine the validity of rights as well as impose and enforce conditions on their use. The nature of the cases that a water law attorney handles varies greatly depending on the geographic region in which they practice.
Much of water resources law practice is bound up in contemporary environmental and property law. Water resources lawyers need to know environmental review law (e.g., NEPA/CEQA) and Endangered Species Acts (as most of western water law is being driven by ESA concerns over fish.) As most projects involve construction around wetlands, they need to know wetlands permitting laws, as well (Army Corps Section 404 permits). And increasingly, water quality laws play a key role in the development and use of water. Understanding basic science and engineering, policy development, fish biology, economics, technology — are all keys to being a successful practitioner.
Attorneys in this field will find work wherever water is scarce, typically throughout the western and southern United States, and major metropolitan areas such as New York and Washington, D.C. Areas experiencing an increase in urbanization will also expand the need for water law professionals.