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 the member's nar.realtor login.

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

Biden Wields His Pen on Day One to Reverse Trump’s Environmental Rollbacks (The Audubon Society, Jan. 21, 2021)

Wall Street Eyes Billions in the Colorado’s Water (The New York Times, Jan 3., 2021)

2020 State of the Water Industry Report (American Water Works Association, Jul. 29, 2020)

Lawmakers, Activists Open Groundwater Fight Against Bottled-Water Companies (Texarkana Gazette, Feb. 15, 2020)

IU Creates Climate Change Data Portal to Model State’s Future Water Supply (Indiana University, Feb. 12, 2020)

Managing Fresh Water Across the United States (NASA, Jul. 8, 2019)

Water Rights

Water Rights Activists Worry About Sale of Poland Spring (Manufacturing Business Technology, Feb. 16, 2021)

Washington State Legislation Would Authorize Two New Large-Scale Water Rights Adjunctions
(The National Law Review, Feb. 2, 2021)

Long-awaited Bill to Settle Navajo Nation Water Rights in San Jose County Passed by Congress (The Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 22, 2020)

Water Rights (Investopedia, Dec. 11, 2020)

Houston’s Water Rights are Safe - for Now (Houston Chronicle, Jan. 9, 2020)

Rising Cost of Water Rights in Loveland Squeezes Local Developers (Loveland Reporter-Herald, Dec. 28, 2019)

Montana’s Water Rights Fractured by New Development (High Country News, Dec. 5, 2019)

Far West Texas Ranch on the Market is All About the Water (The Dallas Morning News, Sep. 16, 2019)

Land Use & Water

Washington State Opens Groundwater Fight Against Bottled Water Companies (Press Herald, Feb. 14, 2020)

Why isn’t Water Central to Every Local Land-Use Decision in Colorado? (The Journal, Feb. 11, 2020)

Louisiana Lawmakers Try to Balance Property Rights with Public Land Use (Minden Press-Herald, Jan. 22, 2020)

Irrigation & Water Use (United States Department of Agriculture)

Water Quality Issues

Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and 8 Others Criminally Charged in Flint Water Crisis (NPR, Jan. 14, 2021)

In California, 1 Million People Lack Access to Clean Water (High Country News, Nov. 20, 2020)

Warm, Wet Winter is Bad News for Local Water Quality in 2020 (University of Rhode Island Today, Feb. 17, 2020)

U.S. Drinking Water Widely Contaminated with ‘Forever Chemicals:’ Environment Watchdog (Reuters, Jan. 21, 2020)

The Trouble with America’s Water (The Atlantic, Sep. 11, 2019)

Water/Color: A Study of Race & The Water Affordability Crisis in America’s Cities (NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, May 31, 2019)

Related Websites

Water Resources Index (United States Geological Survey)

Water Quality "Glossary" (United States Geological Survey)

American Water Resources Association

National Groundwater Association

American Water Works Association

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

Agriculture and Land Use (United States Environmental Protection Agency)

Urban Land Use and Water Quality (United States Geological Survey)

Water Use in the United States (United States Geological Survey)

Water: U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit

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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