Water Law for Activists

Ann Finneran, Water Issues Committee Chair

Activists and attorneys may remember the first Water Law for Activists conference held at the Cornell Law School in March 2017. It was a successful event attended by close to 200 activists, students and attorneys. One of its coordinators was asked by the Environmental Law Department of the law school if we could repeat Water Law, and we were happy to oblige. This year’s conference occurred onWorld Water Day — Friday, March 22 — again at the Cornell Law School in Ithaca.

The 2017 conference focused on water law from the lawyers’ perspective, with activists discussing cases, regulation battles and legislative efforts in tandem with the attorneys. Topics included:
  • Clean Water Act citizen suits and permit challenges
  • water contamination issues in permitting proceedings, including the gas storage on Seneca Lake, upstate landfills and CAFOs
  • Native American water sovereignty, other water rights and industrial water withdrawal concerns
  • protection of water resources by water utilities, such as in Rockland County and Hoosick Falls

Water Law I’s format was effective but did create timing issues. Since we wanted to include as much as possible in March’s one-day event, we’re streamlined the format to allow speakers as much time as possible. Water Law II did certainly review cases, legislative efforts and DEC challenges, including updates on matters covered in 2017, but it offered much more.

Water Law II also offered a “toolbox” of devices, strategies and approaches that water protectors — activists, attorneys, students and concerned citizens — can utilize moving forward. A printed program included these tools as well as everything covered at the event, websites, contacts, etc. We also retained a professional videographer, so the documentation of this event will improve upon 2017’s recording, and will allow for better archiving and easy use of the recording.

We had Judith Enck on video feed speaking on the PFOA contaminations, such as in Hoosick Falls, Newburgh and the Seneca Army Depot. Other topics and presentations from the day included the following:
  • Lake Erie Bill of Rights
  • The Necessity Defense 
  • working with municipalities
  • using the media to impact water law

Though attendance was smaller than in 2017, it was wonderful to see so many engaged water protectors in Ithaca! We’ll be updating the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter website with conference videos as soon as they are finished so more people can benefit from the information presented. 

Feedback is always appreciated, so please contact Ann Finneran AnnLFinneran@gmail.com or Kate Bartholomew ecogreenwolf@gmail.com if you have any comments or suggestions for the next Water Law Conference.
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