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ASU Law’s Morrison Prize honors professor for water rights research

Aerial view of the Colorado River.

In his article, "Water Right Exactions,” Karrigan Börk describes an inventive potential means of mitigating current water rights issues in the U.S.: the use of an exactions framework analogous to those long used by local governments in the land-use planning context.

February 15, 2024

An article advocating for a novel approach to water rights conflicts has been awarded the Morrison Prize by the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University. 

Karrigan Börk, acting professor of law at the University of California, Davis School of Law, was awarded the prestigious honor for his article “Water Right Exactions,” published in 2023 in the Harvard Environmental Law Review. 

Portrait of Karrigan Börk.
Karrigan Börk

The Morrison Prize is a $10,000 prize awarded to the most influential environmental sustainability-focused law journal article published in North America in the previous year. Börk will present his winning article and formally accept the prize at ASU’s ninth annual SRP Sustainability Conference of American Legal Educators in Phoenix on May 10. Independent judging for the Morrison Prize Contest is done by sustainability-oriented professors at four different law schools each year and is proctored by the law and sustainability program at ASU Law. 

“The past winners are outstanding environmental scholars, and I'm humbled to receive the award,” Börk said. “The Morrison Prize and the sustainability conference play a vital role in bringing attention to our environmental challenges, and I hope that the award will bring more attention to the need to balance water use with the impacts of its withdrawal on rivers and their ecosystems. I'm grateful to the prize selection panel for the award and to the conference organizers for building this scholarly community."

Börk’s article describes an inventive potential means of mitigating current water rights issues in the U.S.: the use of an exactions framework analogous to those long used by local governments in the land-use planning context. Börk suggests that state agencies could use an exactions model to collect funds and in-kind contributions to help offset the social costs of water withdrawals.

Börk received his Juris Doctor from Stanford Law School in 2009 and completed his PhD dissertation in ecology at UC Davis in September 2011. His scholarly work examines legal and ethical issues in ecological restoration and ecosystem management.

According to Troy Rule, the Joseph Feller Memorial Chair in Law and Sustainability and faculty director of the law and sustainability program, the Morrison Prize Contest received more entries than ever this year as the annual prize continues to expand its impact. 

“Professor Börk’s article presents a creative and intriguing idea: the potential use of an exactions framework to compel water rights holders to internalize more of the broader societal costs of water withdrawals,” he said. “In an age of unprecedented pressure on watersheds — especially in the Western United States — policies built upon Börk’s vision could be instrumental in addressing chronic and growing conflicts over rivers and other freshwater resources.”

The honor is named after its benefactor, Richard N. Morrison, who co-founded ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.

Past winners of the Morrison Prize

  • In 2023, the award went to “Grid Reliability Through Clean Energy,” which appeared in the Stanford Law Review in 2022 and was authored by professors Alexandra Klass, Joshua Macey, Shelley Welton and Hannah Wiseman.
  • In 2022, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission general counsel Matthew Christiansen and University of Chicago Law Professor Joshua Macey won the Morrison Prize for their article “Long Live the Federal Power Act’s Bright Line.”
  • In 2021, University of Chicago Law Professor Joshua Macey won the Morrison Prize for his article “Zombie Energy Laws,” which described how certain energy laws were impacting the nation’s decarbonization efforts.
  • In 2020, Vanderbilt University Law School Professors Jim Rossi and Christopher Serkin won the Morrison Prize for their insightful article “Energy Exactions,” which was published in the spring 2019 issue of the Cornell Law Review. The article described how local governments could better leverage their land-use regulatory authority to drive substantial increases in rooftop solar energy installations and energy-efficient real estate development.
  • In 2019, a six-author team won the Morrison Prize for an unprecedented analysis of the structuring of conservation easements in the face of rapid climate change. The article, titled “Climate change challenges for land conservation: Rethinking conservation easements, strategies, and tools,” was co-written by Federico Cheever, a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law; Jessica Owley, director of the environmental law program at University of Buffalo–State University of New York; Adena R. Rissman, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Forestry and Wildlife Ecology; M. Rebecca Shaw, chief scientist at the World Wide Fund for Nature; Barton H. Thompson Jr., a professor of natural resources at Stanford Law School; and W. William Weeks, director of the Conservation Law Clinic at Indiana University’s Maurer School of Law.
  • In 2018, Minnesota Law School Professor Hari M. Osofsky and Jacqueline Peel, associate dean of the University of Melbourne Law School in Australia, won the prize for their academic article “Energy Partisanship.” They outlined the critical importance of circumventing fierce political divisions in order to combat climate change and provided guidance for doing so.
  • In 2017, Vanderbilt University Professors Michael P. Vandenbergh and Jonathan Gilligan won the prize for "Beyond Gridlock." The article underscored the difficulties of effecting change through government and highlighted the underutilized potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the private sector.
  • In 2016, Dave Owen, a professor at University of California, Hastings College of Law, and Colin Aspe, a freshwater conservation advisor at the Nature Conservancy, were the inaugural winners of the Morrison Prize. Their article, “Trading Dams,” described creative new policy approaches for better balancing hydroelectric energy generation and environmental protection on the nation’s river system.

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