College of Law

Administration Office: 208-885-2255
Dean’s Office: 208-885-4977
fax: 208-885-5709
Menard 101
711 S. Rayburn Drive

Mailing Address:
College of Law
University of Idaho
875 Perimeter Drive MS 2321
Moscow, ID 83844-2321


phone: 208-364-4074
fax: 208-334-2176
322 E. Front St., Suite 590
Boise, ID 83702

Water of the west

Water of the West: Building a Language Bridge to Span the Divide

Immersion in a foreign culture is an effective method of learning a new language. Turns out, the languages of law, engineering, environmental science and social science are no exception.

The University of Idaho’s Water of the West (WoW) program incorporates three interdisciplinary degree focus areas, including water resources engineering and science, water resources science and management, and water resources law, management and policy, into a unique offering.

“The strength of the WOW program is that we are learning how to work in interdisciplinary teams to solve problems,” said WoW student Joey Machala, pursuing the engineering and science degree option. “One of the hardest things is just the communication barrier. People in different professions have different approaches to a problem, and different terminology. It comes down to people being willing to feel stupid and ask questions.”

Idaho’s is the only water resource degree program in the nation to offer a juris doctor option. Concurrent juris doctor and master’s of science and juris doctor and doctoral degree options are available within any of the three academic focus areas. The program brings together professors, practitioners and students of law, engineering, environmental science and social science. While they share the desire to collaboratively address complex water management issues, their efforts are often hindered by a simple clash of cultures.

Working in interdisciplinary teams taught by faculty representing 13 departments from seven of the university’s colleges, WoW students learn how to identify, establish and practice effective and collaborative sustainable water use and management.

The program’s initial course in integrated water resources methods concluded last month. Student teams addressed the scientific, environmental, social and legal challenges surrounding the Palouse Basin Aquifer.

“Focusing on the local Palouse Basin Aquifer, students and faculty develop methodologies to address the challenges inherent in sustaining our water resources,” said Jan Boll, program director and University of Idaho biological and agricultural engineering professor. “Once they develop a template for a workable interdisciplinary approach, students will take on projects of broader regional and national scale, including the Snake River Plain Aquifer.”

The Water of the West program focuses on the growing and diverse role of water resources shaping the West, which includes seven of the 10 fastest growing cities in the nation. Often conflicting demands from rising municipal, agricultural, recreational and energy-related water uses are particularly relevant to Idaho, where a 50 percent rise in population is projected over the next 25 years – the sixth highest projected population growth rate in the nation.

The complexity of water issues demands integrated solutions, Boll said. College of Law Professor Barbara Cosens, who heads the law facet of the program, agrees.

“The interdisciplinary nature of the program forces students to look at issues in a different way than they ever have before,” said Cosens. “Working interdisciplinary builds understanding and respect, and the ability to communicate across disciplines. Those skills allow our graduates to help communities resolve water resource issues.”

WoW students seem willing to embrace the challenges and rewards inherent in interdisciplinary education, and its application.

“When I graduate and pass the bar, I want to be able to present myself to a client as someone who knows not just about the law, but other aspects of the issue,” said Luke Marchant, third-year law student in the WoW program. “Looking at the water issue from many perspectives gives you an advantage. We learn about each other’s disciplines as we work together to find common solutions.”

The Water of the West program was approved by the Idaho State Board of Education in April 2007. The first course was offered in August. The initial course attracted 16 graduate students last fall, two of them pursuing a juris doctor degree option. Twenty students are enrolled in the water resources program as of spring semester; three of the newly enrolled students are pursuing juris doctor and master's of science degrees.

Those seeking concurrent law degrees through the WoW program take law courses exclusively their first year and then begin pursuing interdisciplinary study.

Water of the West is one of five blue ribbon initiatives selected in spring 2006 to share in $5.5 million of university funding paid out over five years. The projects reflect the university’s reinvestment in strategic and multidisciplinary academic areas. The initiatives funded show high promise for advancing excellence in thematic areas identified in University of Idaho President Timothy White’s “Plan for Renewal.”