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Water Law: The Public Trust Doctrine

One of the more interesting doctrines in Water Law is the public trust doctrine, which preserves public rights in the nation's waters and limits states' abilities to destroy the public's interests in these waters. This lesson provides a review of the basic contours of the public trust doctrine in American law, focusing on: (1) the federal law governing state ownership of the beds and banks of navigable waters; (2) the U.S. Supreme Court's 1892 decision in Illinois Central Railroad v. Illinois; and (3) state variations in, and expansions of, their state common-law public trust doctrines in the 20th and 21st centuries.

This lesson is intended as a review for students who have already studied the public trust doctrine in a Water Law, Property, Natural Resources, or Advanced Property course. In particular, students should already be familiar with the Illinois Central decision. The lesson consists of 15 questions.

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