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Federal Land Management Laws and Their Impact on Water Development in the West

Lawrence J. Wolfe and Anne J. Castle, Proceedings of 32nd Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1986)

From the time of the earliest settlements, the federal government, in its role as land owner and manager, has influenced the development and use of water in the western United States. The federal government, through the creation [23-3] of national forests, controls the headwaters that are the source of more the half the annual runoff in the western states.1 The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages vast tracts of land to meet multiple use goals, only some of which are compatible with the development and use of water for non-federal purposes. For many water projects, the federal government is the dominant force which determines the conditions under which water will be available.

This article is a survey of the major statutes and implementing regulations of the federal land management laws which have an impact on water development. The article does not include a detailed historical analysis of these laws, for such information is readily available from other sources.2 Rather, it is intended to provide an overview of those issues which will affect existing and future water projects in the West.