Water Rights and the Environment in the United States: A Documentary and Reference Guide. By John R. Burch Jr. Documentary Reference Guides. Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood, 2015. 442 p. Acid-free $100 (ISBN 978-1-4408-3802-6). Ebook available (978-1-4408-3803-3) call for pricing.

In Water Rights and the Environment in the United States: A Documentary and Reference Guide Burch presents a collection of documents highlighting major points in the development of water politics and policy in the United States related to environmental issues. The interrelation of the rulings, legislation, treaties, and agreements, including how they built upon, corrected, or contradicted each other, informs the discussions.

Each document is introduced with a quote, the title, the date and location, and a comment regarding the significance. Some documents are full text, some excerpted. All are followed by analysis and further reading. Following a reader’s guide providing broad topical categorization of the documents, and an introduction, the book is arranged into six parts: “Doctrines and Rights,” “Waters of the West,” “Border Regions,” “Water Management and Flood Control,” “Environmental Issues,” and “New Threats to Water Supply and Safety.” These are followed by a chronology, resources, and an index.

Rather than comprehensiveness, Burch devotes his effort to careful selection, concise presentation, analysis, and accessibility. The detailed table of contents, the reader’s guide, and the chronology enhance accessibility and contextualization. The index, a noteworthy asset, is thorough and provides access at a variety of levels of topics. It is essential for locating information based on common names, such as the Boldt Decision, or using the second named party in a dispute, such as Left-Hand Ditch Company. The analyses suggest motivations and note significant contemporaneous conditions. Also discussed are outcomes due to the construction of the document or the implementation, continuing flaws, and other ideas or information that flesh out the documents and the associated issues.

There is certainly benefit to works that are more comprehensive and descriptive, leaving the reader to pursue the documents. John W. Johnson’s United States Water Law: An Introduction (CRC Press 2009) and A. Dan Tarlock’s Law of Water Rights and Resources (Thomson Reuters 2015) are examples. Tarlock cites an abundance of documents, and is updated frequently, but is written for lawyers and lacks a broader environmental interest. Johnson, similarly, does not emphasize environmental aspects, but is useful for concise definitions of concepts and citations to follow. Philippe Sande’s Documents in International Environmental Law (Cambridge University Press 2004) could serve a similar purpose to Burch, on an international scale, but would benefit from updating.

Water Resource Management: A Casebook in Law and Public Policy, 7th ed., by A. Dan Tarlock, James N. Corbridge, David H. Getches, Reed D. Benson, and Sarah Bates (West Academic 2014), is more than twice as long and much more dense, thorough, and comprehensive than Burch’s work, although about twice as expensive as well. The non-intuitive indexing made it somewhat difficult to locate the three-quarter page on fracking, for example, although it provided valuable information and plentiful citations. Tarlock’s work does not, and is not intended to, provide the texts or significant segments of the documents. The lack of a specifically environmental focus may account for the apparent lack of reference to the Boldt decision (United States v. Washington State, 1974), for example.

Burch has produced a work with an engaging narrative style, which is easily used and engenders understanding of how the current state arose and consideration of future directions. Reading how the court described the snowballing errors culminating in the Exxon Valdez disaster, for example, enlivens the conceptual information with concrete, real-life impact. However, for graduate level or above, and for legal education programs, the types of information, specificity, and breadth of Water Resource Management would be a preferable choice for most.—Lisa Euster, Reference Librarian, Seattle


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