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Tonkon Water Law Attorney Literally Writes the Book on the Subject

October 19, 2017
During her first year of law school, Tonkon Torp Senior Counsel Jan Neuman was worried she had made the wrong career choice. But then, after reading a case involving the Colorado River in her first year Property Law class, she found a subject she could feel truly passionate about – water law, with all of the complexity inherent to its practice. Jan views water law as a microcosm of natural resource law that combines history, politics, geography, ecology, and competition for resources. Laws governing water allocation affect individuals and businesses, agriculture and industry, and communities big and small.

After a phase as a commercial litigator at Tonkon Torp in the early 1980s, Jan began laying the foundation for her Water Law practice as an Assistant Director and then Director of the Oregon Department of State Lands. In that position, she oversaw the agency that supports the State Land Board (the Governor, Secretary of State, and State Treasurer) and directed the department’s stewardship of land, water, and other resources dedicated to the Common School Fund for K-12 education. Jan then moved into academia, joining the faculty at Lewis & Clark Law School for a 19-year tenure teaching Water Law, Administrative Law, Property Law, and other natural resource classes. While at Lewis & Clark, she also served stints as Associate Dean of Faculty and co-director of both the Natural Resources Law Institute and the Northwest Water Law & Policy Project at Lewis & Clark.

Jan returned to Tonkon Torp briefly in 2008 during an academic sabbatical to help start the firm's Water Law practice. By the time she took early retirement from teaching and returned to Tonkon full time in 2011, she had achieved national recognition for the depth of her knowledge and experience in the field of water law. Today, thanks to Jan, Tonkon Torp is one in a relatively short list of Northwest firms who offer clients water law expertise. Her experience in government and academia gives her a valuable perspective and advantage in the interpretation and application of water law. One of her colleagues likes to say, "She wrote the book on water law." That book, published in 2011, is Oregon Water Law: A Comprehensive Treatise on the Law of Water and Water Rights in Oregon.

Population growth, climate change, species protection, pollution concerns, and seasonal scarcity all contribute to a growth in competition for water in Oregon. Water disputes are increasing as the rigid "first in time, first in right" tradition from the 1800s butts up against growing demands from developers, new property owners, and conservation groups to update and reform the laws that govern water rights. Across Oregon, no "new" water rights are available during the driest parts of the year. As a result, water politics will continue to heat up in the coming decades.

Jan's clients include Oregon farmers, ranchers, industries, and others who need water for their operations. She helps them understand how they fit into the current reality of water law, and works with them to devise strategies to protect their water rights, or to obtain rights through transfer or trade.

As land and water issues become more closely intertwined, arguments about water and water rights can bleed into land use law and vice versa. Jan works closely with Tonkon Torp's Real Estate and Energy Law practice groups to complete due diligence projects on water rights as they relate to real estate transactions for wind, solar, pumped storage, and other projects.

Jan is a passionate advocate for wise management of water resources and for a healthy, efficient agriculture industry that recognizes the importance of conservation and keeping water in streams. She supports collaboration and forward thinking about water law and policy, and is an enthusiastic contributor to water strategy discussions held at local, regional, and national levels. Even with increased friction between old and new water law viewpoints, Jan sees this era of water use, development, and management as an exciting time of opportunity and innovation.