A global expert on water and natural resources, Barton “Buzz” Thompson focuses on how to improve resource management through legal, institutional, and technological innovation. He was the founding Perry L. McCarty Director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, where he remains a Senior Fellow and directs the Water in the West program. He also has been a Senior Fellow (by courtesy) at Stanford’s Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Studies, and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution. He founded the law school’s Environmental and Natural Resources Program. He also is a faculty member in Stanford’s Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER).

Professor Thompson served as Special Master for the United States Supreme Court in Montana v. Wyoming, an interstate water dispute involving the Yellowstone River system. He also is a former member of the Science Advisory Board of the United States Environmental Protection Agency. He chairs the boards of the Resources Legacy Fund and the Stanford Habitat Conservation Board, is a California trustee of The Nature Conservancy, and is a board member of the American Farmland Trust, the Sonoran Institute, and the Santa Lucia Conservancy.

Professor Thompson is of counsel to the law firm of O’Melveny & Myers, where he specializes in water resources and was a partner prior to joining Stanford Law School. He also serves as an advisor to a major impact investment fund. He was a law clerk to Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist ’52 (BA ’48, MA ’48) of the U.S. Supreme Court and Judge Joseph T. Sneed of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Academic Appointments

Program Affiliations

  • Public Policy

2023-24 Courses

Stanford Advisees

All Publications

  • Storing and managing water for the environment is more efficient than mimicking natural flows. Nature communications Null, S. E., Zeff, H., Mount, J., Gray, B., Sturrock, A. M., Sencan, G., Dybala, K., Thompson, B. 2024; 15 (1): 5462


    Dams and reservoirs are often needed to provide environmental water and maintain suitable water temperatures for downstream ecosystems. Here, we evaluate if water allocated to the environment, with storage to manage it, might allow environmental water to more reliably meet ecosystem objectives than a proportion of natural flow. We use a priority-based water balance operations model and a reservoir temperature model to evaluate 1) pass-through of a portion of reservoir inflow versus 2) allocating a portion of storage capacity and inflow for downstream flow and stream temperature objectives. We compare trade-offs to other senior and junior priority water demands. In many months, pass-through flows exceed the volumes needed to meet environmental demands. Storage provides the ability to manage release timing to use water efficiently for environmental benefit, with a co-benefit of increasing reservoir storage to protect cold-water at depth in the reservoir.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41467-024-49770-4

    View details for PubMedID 38937466

    View details for PubMedCentralID 7035475

  • Socio-hydrological impacts of rate design on water affordability during drought ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH LETTERS Nayak, A., Rachunok, B., Thompson, B., Fletcher, S. 2023; 18 (12)
  • Pwehe Ke Kai a"o H"ena: Creating State Law based on Customary Indigenous Norms of Coastal Management SOCIETY & NATURAL RESOURCES Vaughan, M. B., Thompson, B., Ayers, A. L. 2017; 30 (1): 31-46
  • Barriers to Innovation in Urban Wastewater Utilities: Attitudes of Managers in California ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT Kiparsky, M., Thompson, B. H., Binz, C., Sedlak, D. L., Tummers, L., Truffer, B. 2016; 57 (6): 1204-1216


    In many regions of the world, urban water systems will need to transition into fundamentally different forms to address current stressors and meet impending challenges-faster innovation will need to be part of these transitions. To assess the innovation deficit in urban water organizations and to identify means for supporting innovation, we surveyed wastewater utility managers in California. Our results reveal insights about the attitudes towards innovation among decision makers, and how perceptions at the level of individual managers might create disincentives for experimentation. Although managers reported feeling relatively unhindered organizationally, they also spend less time on innovation than they feel they should. The most frequently reported barriers to innovation included cost and financing; risk and risk aversion; and regulatory compliance. Considering these results in the context of prior research on innovation systems, we conclude that collective action may be required to address underinvestment in innovation.

    View details for DOI 10.1007/s00267-016-0685-3

    View details for Web of Science ID 000374831700005

    View details for PubMedID 26993816

  • Assessment of human-natural system characteristics influencing global freshwater supply vulnerability ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH LETTERS Padowski, J. C., Gorelick, S. M., Thompson, B. H., Rozelle, S., Fendorf, S. 2015; 10 (10)
  • Adapting Conservation Easements to Climate Change CONSERVATION LETTERS Rissman, A. R., Owley, J., Shaw, M. R., Thompson, B. (. 2015; 8 (1): 68-76

    View details for DOI 10.1111/conl.12099

    View details for Web of Science ID 000350544200008

  • The Innovation Deficit in Urban Water: The Need for an Integrated Perspective on Institutions, Organizations, and Technology ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING SCIENCE Kiparsky, M., Sedlak, D. L., Thompson, B. H., Truffer, B. 2013; 30 (8): 395-408
  • Institutional incentives for managing the landscape: Inducing cooperation for the production of ecosystem services ECOLOGICAL ECONOMICS Goldman, R. L., Thompson, B. H., Daily, G. C. 2007; 64 (2): 333-343
  • Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist: Prizing people, place, and history STANFORD LAW REVIEW Thompson, B. H. 2006; 58 (6): 1695-1703
  • The continuing innovation of citizen enforcement UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS LAW REVIEW Thompson, B. H. 2000: 185-236
  • People or prairie chickens: The uncertain search for optimal biodiversity STANFORD LAW REVIEW Thompson, B. H. 1999; 51 (5): 1127-1185
  • Endangered Species Act: A case study in takings & incentives STANFORD LAW REVIEW Thompson, B. H. 1997; 49 (2): 305-380
  • JUDICIAL TAKINGS VIRGINIA LAW REVIEW Thompson, B. H. 1990; 76 (8): 1449-1544