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Water Law


The attorneys on Varnum's Water Law Team focus on assisting clients in successfully navigating the complicated array of state, federal and regional water laws, regulations and agreements in order to meet the client's objectives. Our attorneys work with clients in a number of sectors and on a range of Michigan and Great Lakes water issues. We are experienced in working with both state and federal agencies on local and Great Lakes issues, including U.S. EPA, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) and Coast Guard among others.

Below is a sampling of some sectors we have represented and examples of work we have done on behalf of clients in those sectors. In addition, our water law attorneys participate on behalf of clients in proceedings leading to the development of policy, statutes and regulations in the water area. This has included working on behalf of clients on sensitive and potentially controversial projects and topics. We routinely aid clients in effectively managing communications with regulatory agencies and the public in order to achieve client goals with minimum controversy.


Clients in this sector are often faced with navigating regulations under both state agricultural and environmental agencies. Our water law attorneys are experienced in assisting large and small agricultural operations in a variety of areas, including the following:

  • Regulatory compliance for irrigation withdrawals
  • Enforcement defense, groundwater and surface water discharge permitting, and addressing groundwater and surface water impacts
  • Water management, including onsite stormwater and wastewater reuse or treatment

Food Processors and Beverage Producers

Varnum's water law attorneys have experience working with clients in the food processing and beverage product sectors, and have addressed such legal and regulatory issues on behalf of these clients as the following:

  • Groundwater and surface water discharge permitting and compliance defense
  • Mitigating and remediating groundwater impacts
  • Process water management
  • Planning and implementing water sustainability and reuse practices for complex process flows
  • Water withdrawal regulatory compliance


Our water law attorneys routinely represent a range of clients in the industrial sector and have represented these clients on diverse issues. The following is a small sample:

  • Discharge permitting and compliance defense, including Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) issues
  • Addressing groundwater and/or surface water impacts and remediation
  • Establishing contracts for purchase of municipal water for use in industrial processes
  • Planning and implementing corporate water sustainability practices
  • Permitting of offshore industrial uses in the Great Lakes, including bottomlands leasing
  • Water withdrawal regulatory compliance and enforcement defense
  • Permitting for water diversions and stream modifications (e.g., Wetlands/404/Inland Lakes and Streams Act (ILSA))

Land Development

Varnum's water law attorneys have routinely worked with clients in this industry sector on issues such as:

  • Wetlands permitting
  • Riparian rights and boundary determinations
  • Waterfront access
  • Waterfront management and protection, including the use of conservation easements
  • Establishment of marinas
  • Permitting and compliance for onsite wastewater treatment
  • Stormwater management and permitting

Mining and Mineral Development

Clients in this sector face challenges and regulatory complexities different from those of traditional industrial users, and state laws and Great Lakes regional agreements apply differently to them than to other industries. Our experienced Water Law attorneys have assisted clients in this sector with such issues as.

  • Planning and permitting for water use and water management
  • Compliance with state water withdrawal regulations and Great Lakes regional agreements
  • Discharge permitting and compliance under various mineral development and water regulatory programs
  • Water impacts of mining reclamation
  • Permitting for water diversions and stream modifications, including state wetlands permitting, Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 404, and Michigan's ILSA.


Our water law attorneys have represented municipal clients on water supply, treatment and other water-related issues, including:

  • Water supply development and funding
  • Navigating water withdrawal regulation
  • Wastewater treatment plant permitting, ordinance development, enforcement and compliance defense, including contesting TMDLs
  • Well head and watershed restoration and protection
  • Hydropower development
  • Dam decommissioning and river restoration
  • Waterfront restoration, remediation and development
  • Negotiating water sale contracts to bottlers

Recreational Users

Clients in this sector include ports and marinas, lake associations and individuals. Our water law attorneys have represented such clients on a variety of matters, such as the following:

  • Establishing or challenging lake levels
  • Challenging or defending lake access restrictions
  • Riparian rights and boundary disputes
  • Waterfront management and protection, including establishment of conservation easements
  • Development, permitting, and regulatory compliance for marinas and ports

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