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A Federal Act to Promote Integrated Water Management: Is the CZMA a Useful Model?


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Water management in the United States currently suffers from both substantive fragmentation (with different agencies handling different aspects of water management) and geographic fragmentation (with watersheds and water basins divided among multiple agencies). This Article examines whether the federal Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) could provide a model for federal legislation promoting greater integration of water management by the states. The CZMA successfully addressed similar fragmentation plaguing coastal management in the early 1970s by encouraging but not mandating statewide management plans, raising the possibility that a similar approach could help reduce fragmentation in the water field. Just as in the coastal context, the federal government has a significant interest in ensuring effective state water management, but a federal mandate that states adopt a more integrated approach to water management would appear unnecessary, unwise, and politically impossible.

The Article begins by examining the problem of fragmentation in water management, possible solutions such as Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM), and the CZMA’s value as a role model for federal legislation addressing the problem. The Article then examines the potential provisions of such a law, dubbed the Sustainable Water Integrated Management Act (SWIM). SWIM would need to address a number of difficult issues, ranging from how to deal with interstate rivers to the appropriate geographic scale for integration. The Article concludes by evaluating a number of incentives that SWIM might provide to states to encourage integrated management, including matching funds, federal consistency, technical assistance, streamlined permitting of water projects, and delegation of federal authority over key water issues. 

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