Water Law in the Colorado River Basin: Past, Present, and Future

The 40 million people who live in the Colorado River Basin face a challenging water shortage and the need for reform to chart a sustainable future. Adapting to the present challenges and shaping those future reforms requires an appreciation of the legal history of the Colorado River. That history shows how the law has both frustrated and advanced goals of achieving greater equity in water access in the Basin. This panel will discuss the legal history of the Colorado River Basin, how that history shows both failures and successes in advancing water equity, the relationship between that history and the present shortage, and what reforms might secure a more sustainable and equitable water future for all who call the Colorado River Basin home.


WHEN: Thursday, May 4 | 3:30 – 5:00 PM MST

WHERE: The Sandra Day O’Connor Courthouse
401 West Washington Street, Phoenix, Arizona
& virtually over Zoom.

COST: Attendance is free!

1.5 hours of CLE for FREE (but donations greatly appreciated to support more FREE programming)!

CLE Information & Materials


DERRICK BEETSO is a citizen of the Navajo Nation and serves as director of the Indian Gaming and Tribal Self-Governance Programs and professor of practice at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. Prior to this role, Beetso served as general counsel to the National Congress of American Indians and as attorney-advisor to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ western regional office within the Department of the Interior’s Office of the Solicitor in Phoenix, AZ.

RICHARD MORRISON is a retired lawyer and commentator on water policy. 

In law, Richard was a natural resources lawyer (principally water law), lobbyist, and educator. He continues to serve as an Adjunct Professor in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, where he also endowed the Richard Morrison Professor of Water Law.

In civic life, Richard is a Co-Founder of the Morrison Institute of Public Policy at Arizona State University and a founding board member (eventually President) of the C.W. and Modene Neely Charitable Foundation. 

In 2021 Richard founded the Institute for Public and Professional Ethics in Leadership at Northern Arizona University.

SARAH PORTER is director of the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. Established in 2014, the Kyl Center promotes research, analysis, collaboration and open dialogue to build consensus in support of sound water stewardship solutions for Arizona and the West. The Kyl Center’s signature product is the Arizona Water Blueprint, a comprehensive online for information about Arizona water resources and policy.

Sarah came to the Kyl Center from the National Audubon Society, where she served as the Arizona state director and led Audubon’s Western Rivers Project, a multistate initiative to protect and restore important river habitats in the Intermountain West.  Sarah serves on Senator Sinema’s Water Advisory Council, Governor Ducey’s Water Augmentation, Innovation and Conservation Council, University of Arizona’s Water Resources Research Center’s External Advisory Council and Phoenix’s Environmental Quality and Sustainability Commission.

KATHRYN SORENSEN served for many years as Director of Phoenix Water Services as well as Director of the City of Mesa Water Resources Department. In these roles she was responsible for the delivery of safe, clean, reliable water for millions of Arizonans, and significantly advanced the sustainable management of water resources in Arizona and the Colorado River basin. Kathryn earned a PhD in Agricultural and Resource Economics from Texas A&M University and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the University of Michigan. In her position at Arizona State University, she oversees the research efforts of the Kyl Center for Water Policy, serves as a Professor of Practice at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, and as a Senior Global Futures Scientist at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory. Kathryn is a member of the Colorado River Research Group.

Moderated by RHETT LARSON, the Richard Morrison Professor of Water Law at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. He is also a senior research fellow with the Kyl Center for Water Policy at ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy. 

Professor Larson’s research focuses on the impact of technological innovation on water rights regimes, in particularly transboundary waters, and on the sustainability implications of a human right to water. He works on dispute resolution and improved processes in water rights adjudications in Arizona and the Colorado River Basin with the Kyl Center for Water Policy. He is the author of Just Add Water: Solving the World’s Problems Using its Most Precious Resource (Oxford University Press, 2020). He received a Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago and a Masters of Science from Oxford University.


1.5 hours of Arizona or California CLE available.

The CLE Materials for this program will be our upcoming double issue of Western Legal History, which is all about water law and includes articles from several of this program’s panelists.

Read the issue here!

Our providers:

Want to see another great program in the 2023 Water Law Series?
Watch the recording from “Water Law: Hawaii”!