Washington Law Review


Peter L. Reich


In this Article, the author argues that after the United States' annexation of the Southwest, state judges in California, New Mexico, and Texas knowingly distorted the communal nature of applicable Spanish and Mexican water law. While previous scholars have acknowledged that courts misinterpreted municipal and riparian water rights originating in the Southwest's Hispanic period, most historians have attributed the distortion to ignorance rather than design. Using archival sources, the author demonstrates that American judges created an historical fiction of "Spanish" absolute water control, and intentionally disregarded actual law and custom dictating water apportionment. The resulting doctrines of pueblo water rights and riparian irrigation rights facilitated water monopoly and accumulation by cities and large landowners. This intentional manipulation of Hispanic law bears implications for legal historical debates and contemporary water allocation problems.

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