Sandra B. Zellmer


Sandra Zellmer began teaching at the College of Law in 2003. She teaches and writes about natural resources, water law, public lands, wildlife, environmental law, disaster law, and related topics. Zellmer is a co-author and principal editor of a casebook, Natural Resources Law (with Professors Laitos and Wood) (West 2d edition 2012), Principles of Natural Resources Law: A Concise Hornbook (with Laitos) (West 2014), and Water Law in a Nutshell (with Amos) (West 5th edition forthcoming 2015). Her book Mississippi River Tragedies: A Century of Unnatural Disaster, written with Christine Klein and published by NYU Press in 2014, has received outstanding reviews from across the country. Zellmer has also published dozens of book chapters and articles, and was awarded "Best Paper" by the American Bar Association (ABA) for her work on "Missouri River Mud: Clean Water and Endangered Species," which she presented at the ABA's Annual Water Law Conference in 2011. Zellmer has given presentations about water law and other related topics around the globe, in far-flung venues such as IUCN Congresses in Sydney, Australia and Jeju, South Korea, and also at the M.S. Swaminathan Institute in Chennai, India with members of the Global Water for Food Institute. Closer to home, for the past few years, Zellmer has participated in annual training sessions on wilderness management at the Carhart Wilderness Center in Missoula, MT.

Zellmer serves on the Steering Committee for the University's Global Water for Food Institute. She also served as a committee member on the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council Committee on Missouri River Recovery; the committee report was published in 2010. She is active in the ABA’s Section on Environment, Energy, and Resources, in particular, the Section’s committees on public lands and on water resources.

Previously, Professor Zellmer was a member of the faculty at the University of Toledo College of Law from 1998 - 2004. She has been a visiting professor at Pepperdine, Tulane, and Drake law schools, and a scholar-in-residence at Colorado law school. Prior to teaching, she was a trial attorney in the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, litigating public lands and wildlife issues for various federal agencies, including the National Forest Service, National Park Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service. She also practiced law at Faegre & Benson in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and clerked for the Honorable William W. Justice, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas.


Environmental Ethics and Law Seminar Law 623/G (3 cr hr)
Key theories in environmental ethics and environmental law; enhanced ability to analyze critically and communicate clearly and persuasively in an interdisciplinary forum through writing, informal discussion, and formal presentations; and a deeper understanding of sustainability as a principle of environmental law and ethics especially in agriculturally dominated landscapes. Nature of ethics and its relation to law; climate change; bio-fuels with implications for farm communities, water resources, and food supplies; and genetically modified organisms (GMO's).

Environmental Law Law 641/G (AECN *841) (1-4 cr hr)
Legal problems encountered as a result of the impairment of the quality of the environment. Control of air, water, land, noise, and radiation pollution, and the roles of federal, interstate, state, and local agencies in affording protection. Includes private actions, class actions, and regulatory actions to protect both private and public interests.

Environmental Law and Water Resources Management Seminar Law 774/G (CIVE 916; NRES 916) (1-4 cr hr, max 4) Prereq: Permission
An interdisciplinary seminar with the Department of Civil Engineering. Contemporary environmental issues and water resource management.

Land and Natural Resources Law 698/G (1-4 cr hr)
Acquisition and disposition of the public domain; jurisdiction over public lands; withdrawals and reservations; mining and mineral leasing on public lands; range, forest, and wildlife management, recreation, and preservation.

Torts I & II Law 503/G (EDAD *874) & 504/G (EDAD *875) (1-6 cr hr, max 6 per class)
Legal protection afforded in civil proceedings against interference with the security of one's person, property, relations, and other intangible interests. Substantive principles that govern tort claims (ranging from claims for intentional wrongdoing, to negligence claims, to claims that the defendant is strictly liable for harms caused to the plaintiff), and the theoretical bases and practical implications of such claims.

Water Law, Planning and Policy Law 776/G (AECN *876) (1-4 cr hr)
Judicial, legislative, and administrative problems in water resource development, allocation, and control.


The Changing Nature of Private Property Rights to Federal Resources,  2017 NO. 1 RMMLF-INST 5 , 5-1 (2017)

Takings, Torts, and Background Principles,  51 Wake Forest L. Rev. 193 (2017)

Unnatural disasters and environmental injustice,  Oxford Press Blog (Apr. 6, 2016)

Knowing the Mississippi,  Open Rivers: Rethinking the Mississippi, (2015)

Institutional Ability to Support Adaptive Water Resources Management,  91 Neb. L. Rev. (2013) (with Hoffman)

The Shallows Where Federal Reserved Water Rights Founder: State Court Derogation of the Winters Doctrine,  Den. Water L. Rev. (2013) (with Huber)

Improving Water Pollution Anti-degradation Policies,  G.W. J. E. & Env. Law (with Glicksman) (2012)

Wilderness, Water, and Climate Change,  42 Environmental Law 313 (2012)

Throwing Precaution to the Wind: NEPA and the Deepwater Horizon Blowout,  2 G.W. J. Env. & Energy L. 83 (with Glicksman & Mintz) (2011)

Mudslinging or Peacemaking: Resolving Conflicts between Clean and Clear Water,  16 Drake A.L.J. 1 (2011) Preemption by Stealth, 45 Hous. L.Rev. 1659 (2009)

Why Resilience May Not Always be a Good Thing: Lessons in Ecosystem Restoration,  87 Neb. L. Rev. 893 (2009) (with Gunderson)

Unbundling Property in Water,  59 Ala. L.Rev. 679 (2008) (with Harder)

The Anti-Speculation Doctrine and its Implications for Collaborative Water Management,  8 Nev. L.J. 994 (2008)

Boom and Bust on the Great Plains: Deja vu All Over Again,  41 Creighton L.Rev. 385 (2008)

Mississippi River Stories: Lessons from a Century of Unnatural Disasters,  60 S.M.U. L.Rev. 101 (2007) (with Klein)

A Tale of Two Imperiled Rivers: Reflections from a Post-Katrina World,  59 FL. L.Rev. 599 (2007)

A New Corps of Discovery for Missouri River Management,  83 Neb. L.Rev. 305 (2004)

A Preservation Paradox: Political Prestidigitation and an Enduring Resource of Wildness,  34 Envtl. L. 1015 (2004)

Sustaining Geographies of Hope: Cultural Resources on Public Lands,  73 Colo.L.Rev. 413 (2002)

Biodiversity in and Around McElligot's Pool,  38 ID. L.Rev. 473 (2002) (with Johnson)

The Nondelegation Doctrine: Fledgling Phoenix or Ill-fated Albatross?,  31 Elr 11,151 (2001)

The Protection of Cultural Resources on Public Lands,  31 Elr 10,689 (2001), reprinted in 39 Public LD. & Resources Law Digest 101 (2002) (anthology)

The Virtues of Command and Control Regulation: Barring Exotic Species from Aquatic Ecosystems through the Clean Water Act,  2000 U. Ill. L.Rev. 1233 (2000)

The Devil, The Details, and the Dawn of the 21st Century Administrative State: Beyond the New Deal,  32 Ariz. St. L.J. 941 (2000)

Indian Lands as Critical Habitat for Indian Nations & End. Species,  43 S.D.L.Rev. 381 (1998)

Sacrificing Legislative Integrity at the Altar of Appropriations Riders: A Constitutional Crisis,  21 Harv. Envtl. L.Rev. 457 (1997)

Treading Water, Just Barely: Congressional Apathy Toward the Nation’s Environment,  88 Notre Dame L. Rev (2013)


A Century of Unnatural Disasters: Mississippi River Tragedies(with Klein) (NYU, 2014)

Concise Principles of Natural Resources Law,(with Laitos) (West Academic Publishing, 2014)

Comparative Environmental and Natural Resource Law(Carolina Academic Press, 2013)

Natural Resources Law(with Laitos, Woods, Cole) (West 2nd ed. 2012)

Book Chapters

Wilderness, Adaptive Management, and Resilience, in Resilience and the Law, (Columbia Univ. Press, 2014) (ed. Garmestani & Allen)

The Missouri River Basin, in Waters & Water Rights, (ed. Beck) (Lexis/Nexis 3rd ed. 2010)

The Emergence of Environmental Considerations in the U.S., in The Evolution of the Law and Politics of Water, (eds. Dellapenna & Gupta) (Springer 2009)

The Law of Instream Flow Protection, in Instream Flows for Riverine Resource Stewardship, (Int'l Instream Flow Council 2009)

When Congress Goes Unheard: Savings Clauses' Rocky Judicial Reception, in Preemption Choice (ed. Buzbee) (Cambridge Press 2008)


Water and Takings The 20th Annual Conference on Litigating Takings Challenges to Land Use and Environmental Regulations (October 2, 2017)

Facing Floods and Climate Change While Reforming Disaster Law University of Missouri Life Sciences & Society Program 12th Annual Symposium (March 7, 2016)

Mississippi River Tragedies: A Century of Unnatural Disaster Climate and Energy Bookshelf Series, Yale Law School (April 9, 2015)


On the Environment  Yale Center for Environmental Law & Policy Series

Unnatural Disasters: How Law Hurts, How Law Can Help  University of Minnesota Institute for Advanced Study

Mississippi River Tragedies: A Century of Unnatural Disasters  2014 STIR Talk: Book Reading and Signing

The Wilderness Act at 50 Symposium  Presentation at Lewis & Clark Law School (session 1 begins at 2 minutes 30 secs)

Natural and Unnatural Disaster  BYU Radio Interview

Natural and Unnatural Disaster  BYU Radio Interview (MP3)

Keystone Pipeline  Bloomberg News

Platte River Stream Flows  Lincoln Journal Star

Water Quality Antidegradation Programs  Center for Progressive Reform

Inside Nebraska Water,  Central Public Power & Irrigation Dist. (2009)


The Future of Groundwater in California: Lessons in Sustainable Management from Across the West  Environmental Defense Fund and The Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Global Institute at the University of Nebraska, 2018


LL.M., Environmental Law, with Highest Honors, 1996, The George Washington University National Law Center
J.D., Sterling Honor Graduate (summa cum laude equivalent), 1990, University of South Dakota School of Law
B.A., magna cum laude, 1985, Morningside College

Areas of Expertise


Robert B. Daugherty Professor of Law, 2012-present
Alumni Professor of Natural Resources Law, 2008-2012
McCollum Research Chair, 2008-2009
Hevelone Research Chair, 2006-2007
Co-Director, UNL Water Resources Research Initiative, 2003-2010
Advisory Board, Water for Food Institute, 2010-present
Committee Member, National Academy of Sciences National Research Council - Missouri River Recovery and Associated Sediment Management Issues, 2008-2010
Member, IUCN Commission on Environmental Law, Water & Wetlands Specialist Group (2006-present)
Member, Resilience Alliance, 2006-present
Member Scholar, Center for Progressive Reform, 2004-present
Trustee, Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Foundation, 2004-present
Chair, American Bar Association Section of Environment, Energy, and Resources Committee on Marine Resources, 2002-2004
Member, Committee on Water Resources, 2004-present