Water Rights & Resource Issues


Modern water rights deal with the regulation and allocation of water and its sources. Traditionally, a regional authority would decide how much each holder of a "water right" would be able to claim. But with water shortages becoming more common, these authorities are now asking previous water rights holders to justify their claim with historical data on usage and future plans for conservation and use. 

Mark Twain said, “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.” Indeed, water rights have been a source of conflict and controversy throughout the history of the world. Ever expanding populations and resulting development continue to exacerbate the debate, particularly in the American West.


NAR Library & Archives has already done the research for you. References (formerly Field Guides) offer links to articles, eBooks, websites, statistics, and more to provide a comprehensive overview of perspectives. EBSCO articles (E) are available only to NAR members and require a password.

How America U​ses Water

  • Thermoelectric power 41%
  • Irrigation 37%
  • Public Supply 12%
  • Self-supplied industrial 5%
  • Aquaculture 2%
  • Mining 1%
  • Self-supplied domestic 1%
  • Livestock <1%

Source: Water Use in the United States (U.S. Geological Survey, Jun. 17, 2018)

Water Resources & Issues

The Water Resources Development Act of 2016 (U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, May 23, 2018)

Water Resources of the United States (U.S. Geological Survey, Oct. 19, 2017)

Climate Impacts on Water Resources (U.S. EPA, Jan. 19, 2017)

Water Resources Dashboard (U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, Mar. 18, 2016)

Water Rights

As Shortages Loom in the Colorado River Basin, Indian Tribes Seek to Secure Their Water Rights (Water Education Foundation, Nov. 2, 2018)

Nestle Fights Feds over Water Rights (USA Today, May 9, 2016)

Detroit is Ground Zero in the New Fight for Water Rights (The Nation Blog, July 15, 2015)

What are Water Rights? (Gizmodo, Apr. 13, 2015)

Every drop counts; Valuing the water used to generate electricity (Western Resource Advocates, Jan. 2011)

Public has right to walk upon privately owned river beds when using state waters - see Recent Court Decisions, page 2 (The Appraisal Journal, Winter 2009) E

Tradable Water Rights (Brookings Institution/Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, Spring 2008)

The Appraisal of Water Rights: Valuation Methodology (The Appraisal Journal, Spring 2008) E

Land Use & Water

Urban Land Use and Water Quality (U.S. Geological Survey, Mar. 2, 2019)

Report on the Environment: Land Use (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Jul. 16, 2018)

Water and Land Use Planning (USA Today, May 9, 2016)

Video: Groundwater: The Hidden Source of Life (The Groundwater Foundation)

How Much Do We Depend on Groundwater? (The Groundwater Foundation)

Water Quality Issues

Water Quality (U.S. Geological Survey, Apr. 16, 2018)

Water Quality Standards: Regulations and Resources (EPA, Aug. 11, 2016)

Common Water Quality Problems, Water Analysis and Testing (Water Research Center, June 7, 2016)

Water Quality (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, July 16, 2015)

Local Drinking Water Information (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Apr. 9, 2008)

Healthy Water: Real Estate Sales Depend on It (Realty Times, Sept. 2006)

Related Websites

USGS Water-Quality Information (U.S.Geological Survey)

A-Z Water Resources Index (U.S. Geological Survey)

Water Quality "Glossary" (U.S. Geological Survey)

American Water Resources Association

National Groundwater Association Consumer Information

Water Rights Program (National Park Service)

What Is Groundwater? (Groundwater.org)

100 Ways to Conserve (WaterUseItWisely, 2009)

U.S. Geological Survey

Water Quiz (U.S. Geological Survey)—U.S. Water Resources

American Water Works Association

Surf Your Watershed (Environmental Protection Agency)—search by zip code

eBooks & Other Resources

Books, Videos, Research Reports & More

The resources below are available for loan through Member Support. Up to three books, tapes, CDs and/or DVDs can be borrowed for 30 days from the Library for a nominal fee of $10. Call Member Support at 800-874-6500 for assistance.

Understanding Water Rights and Conflicts (Denver, CO: Burg Young Publishing, 2003) TD 345 Y9

Water Wars: Drought, Flood, Folly and the Politics of Thirst (New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2002) TD 345 W257

Water Follies: Groundwater Pumping and the Fate of America’s Fresh Waters (Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2002) TD 223 G58

When the Rivers Run Dry (eBook)

The Clean Water Act Handbook, 2nd ed. (Chicago, IL: American Bar Association, 2003) KF 3790 C54

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The inclusion of links on this page does not imply endorsement by the National Association of REALTORS®. NAR makes no representations about whether the content of any external sites which may be linked in this page complies with state or federal laws or regulations or with applicable NAR policies. These links are provided for your convenience only and you rely on them at your own risk.



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