Clean, Wet, and Smart, Part IV



Land use affects water quality, water use, and the integrity and health of watersheds.  The last few years have seen a growing level of attention to how aquatically responsible land use and development might be defined and actually achieved.  This blog posting is the fourth in a series of posts highlighting articles that address the legal and policy intersections of land and water.  In this posting, I provide links and abstracts of articles that explore ways that federal law has been misused or unused to regulate land use and development as they relate to water resources.                 


1) Christine A. Klein and Sandra B. Zellmer, "Mississippi River Stories: Lessons from a Century of Unnatural Disasters" (August 20, 2007). Available at SSRN: 




In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the nation pondered how a relatively weak Category 3 storm could have destroyed an entire region. Few appreciated the extent to which a flawed federal water development policy transformed this apparently natural disaster into a “manmade” disaster; fewer still appreciated how the disaster was the predictable, and indeed predicted, sequel to almost a century of similar disasters. This article focuses upon three such stories: the Great Flood of 1927, the Midwest Flood of 1993, and Hurricanes Katrina and Rita of 2005. Taken together, the stories reveal important lessons, including the inadequacy of engineered flood control structures such as levees and dams; the perverse incentives created by the national flood insurance program; and the need to reform federal leadership over flood hazard control, particularly as delegated to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Setting forth what we call the theory of “double takes,” this article argues that property owners in flood-prone areas “take” taxpayer dollars through two sometimes-overlapping mechanisms. First, a package of subsidies - including flood control structures, federal flood insurance, and after-the-fact disaster relief - enables and even encourages construction in high-risk areas. Second, landowners denied permits to develop floodplain and coastal property can “take” federal dollars in the form of compensation awarded under the Fifth Amendment. Such claims for compensation are fostered by the 1992 decision, Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council, in which the Supreme Court endorsed the view that coastal areas are “valueless” in their natural state - a dangerous misconception laid bare by the post-Katrina awareness that wetlands and barrier islands instead perform an invaluable flood-taming function. We conclude with suggestions for reform of federal flood hazard policy, the national flood insurance program, and the regulatory takings doctrine.


2) Jess R. Phelps, "A Vision of the New Deal Unfulfilled? Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Land Use Regulation," 11 Drake Journal of Agricultural Law 353 (2006). Available at SSRN: 




This Note evaluates the role of soil and water conservation districts as a part of the environmental component of New Deal era policymaking. This Note is specifically focused on exploring the nature of the regulatory authority that was granted to the conservation districts at the time most states passed the district enabling legislation and the role this authority play in addressing conservation problems on the local level. States granted districts two types of authority: projects and regulatory. Projects power - or the ability of the districts to promote conservation through demonstration stations, and educational efforts has been the dominant activity of the districts throughout their history. On the other hand, regulatory authority - the ability to pass local regulations governing land use - has rarely been utilized. This Note addresses the reasons this authority was not fully utilized and the forces that opposed the utilization of this district regulatory authority. In conclusion, this Note follows a modern use of district regulatory authority in Montana's Rosebud Conservation District and provides a framework for expanded use of regulatory authority in addressing local environmental problems.