The value of water is indisputable, and that point is demonstrated worldwide in countries that struggle to maintain adequate and clean water supplies.  In the U.S., there are daily reminders of water vulnerability in states suffering with drought and consequential water restrictions.  Present and future concerns over water availability is underscored by a multitude of interstate disputes over water rights. 

For decades, Florida, Georgia, and Alabama battled over rights to the waters of the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river basin, Florida and Alabama maintaining that Georgia’s upstream intake was more than its fair share.  The disputes stemmed from opposing interests:  Georgia’s need for water to support its growing population and agriculture and Alabama’s and Florida’s needs for water to support industry, fisheries, power generation and environmental protection.  Last year, two cases were decided related to the issue, Georgia winning both.  The first was decided by the Supreme court and denied Florida’s attempt to limit the water Georgia could consume, the state claiming that Georgia’s water take caused the collapse of oyster fisheries and harmed the river ecosystem.   The second legal dispute was between Alabama and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers over the amount of water being held to support Georgia’s needs versus Alabama’s needs to support hydropower and wildlife.

Texas and New Mexico have also had numerous lawsuits filed over water rights.  One that is still pending was filed in 2014 by Texas in which the state contended that New Mexico was in violation of the Rio Grande Compact taking more than its allotment through surface water diversions and groundwater pumping practices.  This clain was filed in response to a 2011 suit filed by New Mexico alleging that the government allocated too much water to Texas.  The case was partially decided in 2018, “affirming the right of the United States to intervene in the case, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Special Master for fact finding which is currently ongoing.”[1]

Colorado and Nebraska have battled over water in the past, one such case resulting in Colorado paying Nebraska for violating the terms of the Republican River Compact.  Currently, Nebraska and Colorado are edging closer to a new conflict over water rights, a dispute a consequence of competing water needs: growth and agriculture.  In response to a plan Colorado released in January of this year outlining approximately 300 potential projects along the South Platte River to divert water, Nebraska passed a bill that sanctions development of a canal that will protect its river water supply from Colorado who is experiencing sizeable population growth.[2]  A previous attempt was made in the late 1800s to build a canal that proved unsuccessful, and water experts question whether the canal would ensure Nebraska any water beyond what it currently attains.  As the canal project continues to develop, the dispute could once again end up in the courts.

These disputes will increase in number as water sources dwindle and populations continue to grow. Emphasis on finding balance between competing interests will be necessary to prevent a political tug-of-war between states and to keep similar cases from being perpetually on the courts’ dockets.


[1] “Looming United States Water Wars.” Edited by Taylor Tavormina, Vermont Journal of Environmental Law,

[2] Bittle, Jake. “Is Nebraska Building a $500 Million 'Canal to Nowhere' Just to Own the Libs?” Grist, 2 June 2022,