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Water Rights

Resolving Water Rights Disputes Across The Nation

Water rights conflicts are extraordinarily complex and can take many years to resolve. Mediation can effectively reduce the expense and uncertainty of litigation. Very few mediators anywhere in the United States can match our level of substantive knowledge and experience resolving these disputes.
Mr. Bickerman has mediated water rights disputes in all regions of the United States. For five years, he shepherded the negotiations of the historic Colorado River Cooperative Agreement to a successful resolution. He also resolved the century-old dispute between Illinois and all of its neighboring Great Lakes states, Wisconsin v. Illinois, and successfully guided difficult negotiations between the State of Montana and the United States over the State's water rights on federal lands managed by the Department of Agriculture.

Highlighted Projects

Lake Gaston Pipeline Dispute: Mediated partial settlement of decades-old dispute over inter-basin transfer of up to 60 million gallons of water per day from the Roanoke River Basin to southeastern Virginia. The State of North Carolina and the City of Virginia Beach participated in the mediation. For decades, the rapidly developing City of Virginia Beach found itself without a reliable and adequate supply of water. To meet its future needs, the city planned to build a pipeline across the state to divert water from Lake Gaston. Because all but a small portion of Lake Gaston is in North Carolina, North Carolina strenuously objected to the inter-basin transfer of water. Referred to mediation by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, the lead attorneys for Virginia Beach and the State of North Carolina initially gave mediation less than a 5 percent chance of success. However, after a year of negotiations, the parties achieved a resolution that would provide Virginia Beach with much needed water but would also protect the environmental values about which North Carolina cared so much. The parties then negotiated the terms of an interstate compact that both states would approve before having it presented to the United States Congress for final approval. Although the Virginia legislature did not ratify the compact for reasons unrelated to the compact, Virginia and the City of Virginia Beach have followed the terms of the agreement nonetheless.
Southeast Federal Power Customers v. the United States Army Corps of Engineers: This dispute nominally brought by the hydroelectric power generators against the United States Army Corps of Engineers pitted the generators against municipal water providers in the greater Atlanta area. The dispute grew out of the failure of Alabama, Florida and Georgia to reach an agreement that would formalize an interstate compact over the allocation of water from the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint water basin. The hydro-electric generators sought to enjoin the Corps from providing preferential treatment to the municipal water providers, or, in the alternative, compensation. Over the course of two years of mediation, the parties successfully negotiated a resolution despite the failure of Georgia, Alabama and Florida to conclude their negotiations. The mediation required the review and mastery of complex water flow models and the management of multiple parties with diverse interests.

Denver Water Board v. West Slope Entities: Mediation of decades-old dispute over the use and control of water from the Colorado River Basin. In addition to Denver, participating parties include representatives from the headwaters counties, and agricultural interests from Grand Valley on the West Slope. The mediation was proposed by board members from the Denver Water Board and the Colorado River Water Conservation District as a means to reduce the cycle of litigation and plan constructively for the risk and uncertainty that continued development in the state and climate change will impose on all parties.
Wisconsin v. Illinois: The Great Lakes Water Rights Dispute. Successfully mediated 90-year-old dispute between states of Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio and Pennsylvania, and the United States concerning diversion of water from Lake Michigan allegedly in violation of two Supreme Court consent decrees. The dispute was deemed to be intractable at the outset of mediation. However, in a little more than a year, the parties reached a comprehensive settlement that assured that they would never need to return to the Supreme Court for relief.
United States Forest Service v. Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission: Successful mediation of compact between the United States Forest Service and the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission on behalf of the State of Montana regarding future water rights. After years of on-again, off-again negotiation between the Forest Service and the Montana Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission, the parties agreed to mediation. Their opening positions were so far apart that resolution seemed unlikely. However, regular monthly joint public meetings and frequent contact with the parties between meetings led to the successful resolution of federal water rights claims on all national forest lands in the State of Montana. The compact recognizes Montana state law but also recognizes certain rights the federal government has while providing an agreed-upon process for securing future rights. After concluding their negotiations, the parties jointly held meetings across the state to explain its terms and receive comments.

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