by Joseph F. Zimmerman. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2012. 252pp. Hardcover $80.00. ISBN: 978-1-4384-4447-5.

Reviewed by Christopher Shortell, Division of Political Science, Mark O. Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University. Email: shortell [at]


Disputes over access to water are among the most contentious issues between states in areas hit hard by droughts. One of the most common ways to handle issues such as the allocation of water from the Colorado River or avoiding overfishing among the Atlantic states is the adoption of interstate compacts. In this book, Joseph Zimmerman seeks to catalog the different types of interstate and federal-state compacts that have been adopted to deal with water issues. Unfortunately, the result is little more than a catalog. There are some passing attempts at incorporating theories of federalism in the first chapter (dual, cooperative, and political safeguards), but these are not used or evaluated within the text itself and only reappear with brief mentions in the conclusion. Instead, the book is largely filled with lengthy descriptions of all the interstate compacts that have even remotely involved water and many that do not.

After the first chapter, Zimmerman describes interstate compacts generally, including the negotiation, adoption, and enforcement of the agreements. The next two chapters detail all the interstate compacts that deal with ground water, water allocation, fisheries, flood control, and pollution abatement. Some are quite brief, like the Great Lakes Basin Compact, while others draw more extensive consideration, particularly those dealing with the Columbia River and the Colorado River. Chapter 5 lays out the procedures for bringing original jurisdiction cases to the Supreme Court, much of which will be familiar to law and courts scholars. Chapter 6 is likely to be of the greatest value to readers of this review, since it describes all of the original jurisdiction cases that the Supreme Court has decided that deal with water issues. Most of these are fairly arcane (such as the 1901 case between Kansas and Colorado regarding diversions of water from the Arkansas River) and none are placed in any larger context. The arguments from case after case are presented, with only the briefest effort to draw conclusions at the end of the chapter. The final chapter provides specific policy recommendations to Congress, the President, governors, and state legislatures about how better to manage water-related issues. Though interesting, these are not built in any clear way upon the body of the book. As a consequence, the reader is left uncertain about how to evaluate the desirability of the proposed policies. The book concludes with two appendices listing all the interstate compacts that have received Congressional consent and all federal-interstate compacts.

It is difficult to see how this book would be of much value to law and courts scholars as anything other than a [*562] potential resource for a description of original jurisdiction cases dealing with water. Even the categorization of interstate “water” compacts seems problematic. No effort is made to define the boundaries of that category, which means that compacts dealing with water allocation between states are included along with compacts to reduce crime in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. This is a shame, because as Zimmerman correctly notes, water issues are likely to become increasingly important in the face of expanding populations and extensive droughts.

Copyright 2012 by the Author, Christopher Shortell.