Buzz Thompson

Of Counsel

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Barton H. “Buzz” Thompson, Jr. is an of counsel in O’Melveny’s Silicon Valley office and a member of the Water Industry Practice Group. He is the Robert E. Paradise Professor of Natural Resources Law at Stanford Law School, the Perry L. McCarty Director and Senior Fellow of the Woods Institute for the Environment, and Senior Fellow (by courtesy) at the Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies. The author of several books on water law and policy, he is one of the nation’s leading experts on water issues. He has advised clients on water law issues for decades, developed innovative legal strategies for best exploiting water resources and, in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court appointed Buzz to serve as the special master in Montana v. Wyoming (137 Original).

Prior to joining the Stanford Law School faculty in 1996, Buzz was a partner in our Los Angeles office, and a lecturer at the UCLA School of Law. He was a law clerk to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist of the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge Joseph T. Sneed of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Buzz is chairman of the board of the Resources Legacy Fund, the Resources Legacy Fund Foundation, and the American Farmland Trust; a California trustee for The Nature Conservancy; and a board member of both the Sonoran Institute and the Santa Lucia Conservancy. Buzz previously served as a member of the Science Advisory Board for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Buzz advises our clients in water law property and environmental matters, and is also available to serve as a private arbitrator and special master.


Bar Admissions

  • California


  • Stanford University School of Law, J.D., 1976
  • Stanford Business School, M.B.A., 1976
  • Stanford University, A.B., 1972, Economics and Political Science

Professional Activities

Law Clerk

  • Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist ’52 (BA ’48, MA ’48) of the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge Joseph T. Sneed of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit


  • Board of Directors and Chair, American Farmland Trust
  • California Trustee and Chair of the California Water Committee, The Nature Conservancy
  • Board of Directors and Chair, Resources Legacy Fund
  • Board of Directors and Chair, Resources Legacy Fund Foundation
  • Board of Directors, Sonoran Institute
  • Board of Directors, Sonoran Institute

Selected Books

  • Environmental Law & Policy: Concepts and Insights (4th ed. 2013) (Foundation Press) (with James Salzman)
  • Legal Control of Water Resources (5th ed. 2013) (West Group) (with John Leshy and Robert Abrams)
  • Property: Ownership, Use, and Conservation (2d ed. 2013) (Foundation Press) (with Paul Goldstein)
  • Managing California’s Water: From Conflict to Reconciliation (2011) (Public Policy Institute of California) (with Ellen Hanak, Jay Lund, Ariel Dinar, Brian Gray, Richard Howitt, Jeffrey Mount, Peter Moyle)
  • Endangered Species Protection & Federalism (2011) (with Kaush Arha)

Selected Monographs

  • Allocating California’s Water: Directions for Reform (Public Policy Institute of California 2015) (with Brian Gray, Ellen Hanak, Richard Frank, Richard Howitt, Jay Lund, and Leon Szeptycki)
  • Policy Priorities for Managing Drought (Public Policy Institute for California 2015) (with Jeffrey Mount, Catlin Chappelle, Brian Gray, Ellen Hanak, Jay Lund, and Peter Moyle)
  • California’s Water: Managing Drought (Public Policy Institute for California 2015) (with Jeffrey Mount, Ellen Hanak, Jay Lund, Richard Frank, Greg Gartrel, Brian Gray, and Peter Moyle)
  • California’s Water: Storing Water (Public Policy Institute of California 2015) (with Jay Lund, Jeffrey Mount, Ellen Hanak, Sarge Green, Jason Gurdak, Thomas Harter, Josué Medellín-Azuara, Samuel Sandoval, and Joshua Viers)
  • The Path to Water Innovation (Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institute and Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment 2014) (with Newsha K. Ajami and David J. Victor)
  • Stress Relief: Prescriptions for a Healthier Delta Ecosystem (Public Policy Institute of California 2013) (with Ellen Hanak, Jay Lund, Jeffrey Mount, and others)
  • Integrated Management of Delta Stressors: Institutional and legal Options (Public Policy Institute of California 2013) (with Brian Gray, Ellen Hanak, Jay Lund, and Jeffrey Mount)
  • Water and the California Economy (Public Policy Institute of California 2012) (with Ellen Hanak, Jay Lund, and others) 
  • California Water Myths (Public Policy Institute of California 2009) (with Ellen Hanak, Jay Lund, Ariel Dinar, Brian Gray, Richard Howitt, Jeffrey Mount, & Peter Moyle) 

Studies and Reports

  • Valuing the Protection of Ecological Systems and Services: A Report of the EPA Science Advisory Board(United States Environmental Protection Agency, May 2009) (chair of report committee)
  • A Model Water Transfer Act for California (California Business Roundtable, May 1996) (with Brian E. Gray, Richard Howitt, Lawrence J. MacDonnell, & Henry J. Vaux, Jr.)
  • An Economic Analysis of Water Availability in California Central Valley Agriculture (Stanford University, Center for Economic Policy Research, February 1992) (with Sandra Archibald)

Selected Articles & Book Chapters

  • “Assessment of Human–Natural System Characteristics Influencing Global Freshwater Supply Vulnerability,” 10(10) Envtl. Research Letters 104014 (2015) (with Julie C Padowski, Steven M Gorelick, Scott Rozelle, and Scott Fendorf)
  • “The Role of the Courts in Water Law,” S.C. L. Rev. 581 (2015)
  • “Understanding and Managing Urban Water in Transition,” in Understanding and Managing Urban Water in Transition (Quentin Grafton et al., eds, Springer Science, 2015) (with Rebecca Nelson, Heather N. Bischel, and Richard G. Luthy)
  • “Water Institutions and Agriculture” in The Evolving Sphere of Food Security (Rosamond L. Naylor, ed., Oxford University Press, 2014)
  • “The Innovation Deficit in Urban Water: The Need for an Integrated Perspective on Institutions, Organizations, and Technologies,” 30 Envtl. Engineering Sci. 395 (2013) (with Michael Kiparsky, David Sedlak, & Bernhard Truffer)
  • “The Natures and Causes of the Global Water Crisis: Syndromes from a Meta-Analysis of Coupled Human-Water Studies,” 48 Water Resources Research (2012) (with V. Srinivasan, E. Lambin, S. Gorelick, and S. Rozelle)
  • “A Federal Act to Promote Integrated Water Management: Is the CZMA a Useful Model?” 42 Environmental L. 201 (2012)
  • “Water as a Public Commodity,” 95 Marquette L. Rev. 17 (2011)
  • “EcoFarming: A Realistic Vision for the Future of Agriculture,” 1 U.C. Irvine L. Rev. 1167 (2011)
  • “Beyond Connections: Pursuing Multidimensional Conjunctive Management,” 47 Idaho L. Rev. 265 (2011)
  • “Myths of California Water – Implications and Reality,” 16 West-Northwest J. Envtl. L. 3 (2010) (with Ellen Hanak, Jay Lund, Ariel Dinar, Brian Gray, Richard Howitt, Jeffrey Mount, & Peter Moyle)
  • “Ecosystem Services & Natural Capital: Reconceiving Environmental Management,” 17 NYU Envtl. L.J. 460 (2008)
  • “The Public Trust Doctrine: A Conservative Reconstruction & Defense,” 15 Southeastern Envtl. L.J. 47 (2006-2007)
  • “The Environment and Natural Resources,” in 3 State Constitutions for the Twenty-first Century 307 (2006)
  • “Watershed Protection: Capturing the Benefits of Nature’s Water Supply Services,” 29 Natural Resources Forum 98 (2005) (with Sandra Postel) 
  • “Uncertainty and Markets in Water Resources,” 36 McGeorge L. Rev. 117 (2005) 
  • “Water Management and Land Use Planning: Is It Time for Closer Coordination?” in Wet Growth: Should Water Law Control Land Use? (Craig Anthony (Tony) Arnold, ed. 2005)
  • “The Trouble with Time: Influencing the Conservation Choices of Future Generations,” 44 Nat. Resources J. 601 (2004)
  • “What Good Is Economics?” 37 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 175 (2003)
  • “Constitutionalizing the Environment: The History and Future of Montana’s Environmental Provisions,” 64 Mont. L. Rev. 157 (2003)
  • “Protecting Ecosystem Services: Science, Economics, and Law,” 20 Stan. Envtl. L.J. 309 (2001) (with James Salzman and Gretchen C. Daily)
  • “Markets for Nature,” 25 Wm. & Mary Envtl. L. & Pol’y Rev. 261 (2000)
  • “Tragically Difficult: The Obstacles to Governing the Commons,” 30 Envtl. L. 241 (2000)
  • “Water Allocation and Protection: A United States Case Study,” in Earth Systems: Processes and Issues(W.G. Ernst ed., 2000)
  • “People or Prairie Chickens: The Uncertain Search for Optimal Biodiversity,” 51 Stan. L. Rev. 1127 (1999)
  • “Endangered Species,” in The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics & Law (1998)
  • “Water Law as a Pragmatic Exercise: Professor Joseph Sax’s Water Scholarship,” 25 Ecology L.Q. 363 (1998)
  • “Water Federalism: Governmental Competition and Conflict Over Western Waters,” in Environmental Federalism (Terry L. Anderson & Peter J. Hill eds. 1997)
  • “The Endangered Species Act: A Case Study in Takings & Incentives,” 49 Stan. L. Rev. 601 (1997)
  • “Resource Use and the Emerging Law of “Takings”: A Realistic Appraisal,” 42 Rocky Mt. Min. L. Inst. 2-1 (1996)
  • “Water Markets and the Problem of Shifting Paradigms,” in Water Marketing--The Next Generation(Terry L. Anderson & Peter J. Hill, eds. 1996)
  • “Legal Disconnections Between Ground and Surface Water,” in Making the Connections: Proceedings of the Twentieth Biennial Conference on Ground Water (Univ. Cal. Water Resources Center Report No. 88, June 1966)
  • “Environmental Policy and the State Constitution,” in Constitutional Reform in California: Making State Government More Effective and Responsive (Institute of Governmental Studies Press, University of California 1995)
  • “Takings and Water Rights,” in Water Law: Trends, Policies, and Practice (American Bar Assn. 1995)
  • “Institutional Perspectives on Water Policy and Markets,” 81 Calif. L. Rev. 671 (1993)
  • “A History of the ‘Judicial Impairment Doctrine’ and Its Lessons for the Contract Clause,” 44 Stan. L. Rev. 1373 (1992)
  • “A Comment on Economic Analysis and Just Compensation,” 12 Int’l Rev. L. & Econ. 141 (1992)
  • “Judicial Takings,” 76 Va. L. Rev. 1449 (1990)
  • “Water Law and the Development of Geothermal Resources,” 14 Nat. Resources Law. 635 (1982) (with Owen Olpin)

Selected Editorials & Other Publications

  • “Getting Our Money’s Worth From $7.5 Billion Water Bond,” San Francisco Chronicle, Nov. 21, 2014
  • “California’s Invisible Reservoirs,” San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 8, 2014
  • “Drought a Fact of California Life; Planning Can Ease Impact,” San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 24, 2014
  • “A Federal Act to Promote Integrated Water Management: Is the CZMA a Useful Model?” 43 Envtl. L. Rep. 10682 (2013)
  • “Sustainable Water Use: Envisioning a Sustainable Water Future for the American West,” The Water Report, May 15, 2011
  • “Wheeling Wars,” Water Strategist, July/Aug. 2000
  • “Will Reserved Rights Federalize Groundwater?” Water Strategist, Feb. 2000
  • “Privatization of the Municipal Water Industry,” Looking Ahead, May/June 1999