Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal advice. If you have any questions about your individual situation it is best to seek the advice of an experienced legal professional.

How do two or more states share water resources? When there is conflict, this question often makes its way directly to the US Supreme Court. The problem of managing inter-state resources of course can’t be decided by individual state law. Conflicts therefore might result in a decision that changes the law on this matter for decades, sometimes for the good but sometimes to the detriment of the environment and common benefit.

But, does this have to happen? Who are the stakeholders in these disputes and can it be worked out in mediation instead? The more climate change puts pressure on common resources, the more alternative means of cooperating need to be explored.

Major water disputes that end up involving more than one state very often revolve around water compacts that were made many years ago. Disputes often involve a disagreement about whether a state is meeting their obligations with reference to clauses in water agreements that may be 100 years old.

With climate change actively affecting water supply, older agreements can’t prevent conflicts from erupting. A Florida and Georgia dispute is making its way through the US Supreme Court after the failure to resolve the issue in mediation. These water disputes can quickly get out of hand, due to the fact that satisfying one state’s narrow interests would seriously deprive another state. To help resolve disputes, the US Supreme Court appoints Special Masters to try to reconcile current environmental conditions with federal law and existing compacts.

Unfortunately, because of the nature of legal precedent, some US Supreme Court decisions can have lasting and negative consequences. In one example, the Audubon Society supported Florida in the Florida Georgia dispute over concern that a decision in favor of Georgia could set precedent to privatize water resources.

Making Conflict Resolution Inclusive

The stakeholders who have a say in inter-state disputes are most often state and municipal authorities. Water conflict should not be treated as a purely legal or diplomatic matter though. When states can be more inclusive about involving parties such as corporations and wildlife authorities who may be operating cross border, water can be reframed as a common resource. We are Bozemann, MT mediators with extensive experience working to resolve environmental conflicts in Montana and the Western States. Our philosophy and our methodology entails an analysis of the common interest using the mathematical principles of game theory, communication theory and more. We believe common interest can be found by eliminating what harms resources and fully understanding who and what is affected by environmental disputes. Unlike other West Coast mediators we see the environment and the creatures themselves as playing a role. Understanding that the common environment has its own right to exist can lead to agreements that serve something greater than divergent interests. Sustainable agreements can only be reached by negotiating about a future that is bigger than immediate human needs, as climate change has demonstrated. Rather than deferring to laws that put a band-aid on agreements until conflicts break out, or changing the law to the detriment of the environment, agreements should be worked out that can last into the future.

Who We Are and How We Can Help

We are well-educated Bozemann MT mediators and negotiators with financial, legal, and psychological backgrounds who can analyze your land or water conflict and provide win-win solution sets, using analysis, consultation, mediation, or negotiation. Water is the basis for our human survival, so it’s easy to see how conflicts can quickly become emotional. We recognize that conflicts about water rights can have deep historical roots and require a thorough analysis of sustainable solutions, drawing on the knowledge of experts and parties alike. By employing careful scientific, mathematical, and legal knowledge, recognizing the important values and interests of all stakeholders, and utilizing practical techniques informed by game theory, psychology, and solid strategic and tactical techniques, our Montana mediators can help any and all parties achieve their goals. This approach to conflict avoids costly and protracted litigation, creates sustainable solutions, and develops long-lasting relationships that can pave the way for increased co-operation and better policy on water management and rights. Conflicts over water come in a wide variety of forms: water quality, grazing rights, stream rights, usage rights, community rights, groundwater and surface water and drainage conflicts to name just a few. We can mediate any and all conflicts over water, saving money and crafting solutions built to last for both individuals and the community. During the Coronavirus crisis we are offering accessible, safe remote mediations via videoconferencing platforms like Zoom or Facetime. All remote mediations are completely confidential with the added security of a private, encrypted server. We are available 7 days a week and at urgent notice. Please contact us to see how we can help.

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