Stanford professor appointed special master in states' water battle

Chris Rizo Oct. 21, 2008, 3:58am

Barton "Buzz" Thompson

WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday appointed a Stanford law professor to sort out the facts in a water dispute between Montana and Wyoming.

In a 2007 lawsuit, Montana alleged that Wyoming is taking more than its fair share of water under the 1951 Yellowstone River Compact.

Professor Barton "Buzz" Thompson will serve as special master in the case. He is a professor of natural resources law and serves as director of Stanford law school's Woods Institute for the Environment.

Under his appointment, Thompson will consider a motion by Wyoming Attorney General Bruce Salzburg to dismiss the lawsuit.

Thompson, who clerked for former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, will have the power to issue subpoenas and take evidence and to submit reports to the high court.

In his lawsuit, Montana Attorney General Mike McGrath claimed Wyoming is violating the Yellowstone River Compact by depleting the Tongue and Powder Rivers, which Montana is legally entitled under the 1950 water compact.

The 1950 water agreement allocated each state a share of water from the Yellowstone and its tributaries, which include the Powder and Tongue rivers.

McGrath sued in February 2007, alleging that Wyoming's industries are using too much water.

"When one state takes too much water without regard to satisfaction of downstream requirements, it commits a compact violation, because the downstream state is deprived of its share to the same degree," the filing said. "There is no water unaccounted for."

From Legal Newsline: Reach reporter Chris Rizo at

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