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Complex federal, state, regional, and local laws and regulations, such as the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, Oil Pollution Act, and federal and state water programs, govern the use of water. Vinson & Elkins lawyers, many of whom have extensive backgrounds in industry and government, help guide clients through this multifaceted framework. We work with a diverse client base, including landowners, project developers, major industrial and municipal wastewater facilities, agricultural and industrial businesses, water suppliers, energy suppliers, and local governments, whose ability to access, transport, store, use, recycle, and dispose of water is essential to operations. We assist clients with strategic project siting and development, water permitting and compliance counseling, negotiating water quality standards and permit requirements, negotiating water contracts, resolving regulatory enforcement matters and litigation, and participating in legislative initiatives.

Development projects often involve complex legal issues associated with water provisioning and water management, in addition to general environmental planning, wetlands issues, and storm water control. Our practitioners understand the unique needs of developers facing problems related to water permitting, wastewater treatment, storage, transportation and disposal, compliance, administrative proceedings, and litigation. We also help clients acquire water rights and ensure that those rights are incontestable, which is especially important for our clients engaged in hydraulic fracturing in water-sensitive areas.

Our lawyers bring cutting‑edge experience to innovative public‑private partnerships that support critical improvements to aging wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. We serve as counsel to both the public and private sectors in the development, construction, and operation of water treatment facilities, desalination facilities, waste‑to‑energy projects, and recycling projects. We have helped entities confront a challenging array of environmental, regulatory, construction, insurance, and contractual issues in support of such projects. Our team has also counseled on, among other things, public‑private water transfer and marketing arrangements, new water purification technologies, and new methods of water delivery.

We represent clients in all phases of water-related litigation, including contested case hearings; responding to information requests; enforcement actions; judicial review of revised, suspended, and revoked permits; citizen suits alleging permit violations or unpermitted discharges; negotiating settlements and supplemental environmental projects; and related appellate work. We also help clients acquire water rights and strive to make such rights incontestable, which is especially important for our clients engaged in hydraulic fracturing in water-sensitive areas.

Experience Highlights

  • Advised a water technology client in first-of-its-kind reclamation technology in its first public/private arrangement

  • Represented companies involved in purchasing and recycling wastewater from publically owned treatment works for use in industrial applications, including public/private partnership endeavors

  • Provided guidance to clients with regard to easements and pipelines associated with water from coal sites, hydraulic fracturing sites, and stormwater in matters across the United States

  • Surveyed and analyzed legal issues related to water issues arising from hydraulic fracturing for a multinational construction and engineering company involved in numerous power, oil, and water endeavors

  • Permitted a water line across BLM lands in which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deferred to BLM as the lead agency to prepare the EA and FONSI

  • Represented navigation interests in obtaining permits for a major port expansion, including channel deepening, that required an EIS under NEPA, as well as implicated ESA, NHPA, and the Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act

  • Permitted numerous pipelines, including for a major petrochemical plant to ship products from Corpus Christi to Houston across numerous rivers, streams, and wetlands with various endangered species issues 

  • Permitted numerous residential and commercial developments, including levee and drainage projects with flood plain delineation issues, wetlands, endangered species, historic, and cultural resources 

  • Represented various electric generation facilities on issues concerning water supply, cooling water reservoirs, and application of intake requirements under Section 316(b) of the CWA 

  • Represented a major west coast municipality in water supply issues