Peter W. Culp

Peter W. Culp


Peter Culp practices in the areas of water and natural resources, environmental and federal Indian law and leads the firm's western water law and policy practice. His experience includes representing municipalities, water agencies industrial and energy concerns, land developers, investment firms, and nonprofit organizations and foundations in matters related to surface water rights, groundwater rights, state and federal regulation, the Law of the Colorado River and on the development of federal, state and local policy solutions and innovative investment tools for the management of local and regional water resource scarcity; he also has experience representing industrial and municipal clients with regard to facility siting, permitting, and regulatory compliance arising under the major federal and state environmental laws; representing both private and public entities with regard to land development and master planning projects, development rights, public infrastructure financing, and representing clients interacting with tribal entities, doing business on tribal lands and issues related to the management, development and conservation of state trust lands and federal public lands. 

Peter serves on a variety of boards and commissions related to water and natural resource issues and policy matters. He has been repeatedly appointed by Arizona Governors Janet Napolitano and Jan Brewer to the Colorado River Advisory Commission, where he has served since 2004. He also serves on a bi-national commission under the US Department of State, International Boundary and Water Commission, which is continuing to work to develop and implement new bi-national strategies for the management of Colorado River water supplies in the face of growing water scarcity. His work on this commission has included high-level participation in the development, negotiation and implementation of four new international agreements (Minutes 316, 317, 318 and 319) that have significantly re-shaped the relationship between the US and Mexico with regard to water resource management and ecosystem protection.

As a result of his extensive public policy work, Peter has been twice awarded the Partners in Conservation Award by the U.S. Department of Interior, given by US Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in 2009 in connection with his participation in the negotiation of a new seven-state and federal agreement with regard to the management of the Colorado River, and by U.S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell in 2014 in connection with his participation in the international and domestic negotiations and implementation of Minute 319. For the latter work, he was also a recipient of The Nature Conservancy of Arizona’s 2013 Outstanding Conservation Achievement Award and the Arizona Capitol Times Leader of the Year Award in Public Policy

At the state and local level, Peter has been a high-level participant in a number of water and public lands policy and planning efforts. This work has included service on Arizona’s State Water Advisory Group developing successful state-wide water reform legislation, working with the Arizona Department of Water Resources on the development of water supply and demand models for the 2012 Colorado River Basin Supply and Demand Study and Arizona's Water Resources Development Commission, supporting state trust land reform efforts in collaboration with the Arizona State Land Department, and working with state water managers to develop a successful solution to the international environmental controversy related to operation of the Yuma Desalting Plant. Peter also advises several nonprofit foundations, serves as a director for the Arizona Heritage Alliance and the Tamarisk Coalition and serves on the Board of Visitors for the University of Arizona College of Law.

Peter’s previous experience includes serving as a law clerk in the Indian Resources Section of the US Department of Justice, Environment and Natural Resources Division, and as an in-house attorney with the Sonoran Institute, a nonprofit organization that works on land and water policy issues throughout the intermountain West. Prior to embarking on his legal career, Peter’s endeavors included managing a nonprofit public health technology enterprise for C. Everett Koop, the former US Surgeon General, managing forest fires in the Northern Rockies as part of a Type 1 Incident Management Team, and driving long-haul refrigerated freight in the US and Canada.

Peter is the author of many published articles and reports on environmental and natural resource issues, including a number of publications focused on Western water law and the Colorado River.


  • Representing investment funds, lenders, and developers with regard to water resource and agricultural land transactions, development of investment strategies and due diligence.
  • Representing a leading land development and investment company in the development of a major proposed trans-basin groundwater transportation, water firming, and water supply project.
  • Representing leading nonprofit organizations in a decade-long effort to restore the Colorado River Delta ecosystem and negotiate key policy reforms related to the Law of the Colorado River and the 1944 treaty between the United States and Mexico.
  • Representing a major municipal water provider with regard to water policy and strategy matters related to the Colorado River, the Central Arizona Project, and Arizona water law. 
  • Representing a statewide coalition of Arizona municipalities in the development of comprehensive reforms to Arizona's development impact fee infrastructure financing system, and representing commercial developers with regard to infrastructure financing programs adopted by local municipalities and a Native American tribe.
  • Advising a global conservation organization on the development of a seven-state and international strategy for the Colorado River Basin, and advising a state agency and private foundations on issues related to the Law of the Colorado River, protection of rivers and streams, and regional water planning.
  • Representing a stakeholder group in the reform of Arizona's constitutional and statutory framework for the management of 9.3 million acres of state trust lands, and advising on the development of tools, legal mechanisms and agency capacity for trust land management in eight other Western states.
  • Representing clients in water rights transfers and water supply planning, the siting and development of renewable and natural gas energy projects, air and water permitting, NEPA, ESA, and other environmental reviews, environmental and community outreach, real estate acquisitions, facility sales and corporate merger transactions.


  • The University of Arizona, J.D.,

    summa cum laude

    , 2001
  • University of California, Santa Cruz, B.A.,

    with honors

    , 1994


  • Arizona, 2001


  • Recognized by Chambers USA for environmental matters, including water resources law
  • One of the top 100 lawyers in Arizona for 2016, AZ Business Magazine
  • Other peer-reviewed recognitions include listings in The Best Lawyers in America as well as Southwest Super Lawyers and Az Business Leaders
  • Named to the National Law Journal’s inaugural Energy & Environmental Trailblazer series.


  • “Brookings Institute & Stanford Woods Institute (2014).
  • “Getting to the right side of the river: Lessons for Binational cooperation on the road to minute 319” University of Denver Water Law Review (2014). 
  • “Water Law at the U.S.-Mexico Border: Minute 319 to the 1944 U.S.-Mexico Treaty, American Bar Association, 2013. 
  • “West Must Strive for Water Sustainability,” Arizona Republic, January 5, 2013. 
  • “Parched in the West but Shipping Water to China, Bale by Bale,” Wall Street Journal, October 5, 2012. 
  • “Wires, Roads, and Water: Developing Sustainable Infrastructure on State Trust Land,” Sonoran Institute, 2011. 
  • “Routes, Rails, and Roads: Transportation Infrastructure Development on State Trust Land,” Sonoran Institute, 2011. 
  • “Strategies for Renewable Energy Projects on Arizona’s State Trust Lands,” Sonoran Institute, 2011. 
  • “Economic and Environmental Challenges for Public Water Supply: A Water Quantity Perspective,” American Bar Association, 2008. 
  • “Collaboration in Mexico: Renewed Hope for the Colorado River Delta,” Nevada Law Journal, 2008. 
  • “Sustainable Water Management: Guidelines for Meeting the Needs of People and Nature in the Arid West,” Sonoran Institute, 2007. 
  • “State Trust Lands: The Future of Urban Growth in Arizona,” in “Land Use Challenges and Choices for the 21st Century,” Arizona Town Hall, 2007. 
  • “State Trust Lands in the West: Fiduciary Duty in a Changing Landscape,” Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, 2006. 
  • “State Trust Lands in the American West: A Legal Overview and Policy Assessment,” Sonoran Institute, 2005. 
  • “The YDP/Cienega Conflict: A Proposed Solution” and “Recent Developments on the Colorado River: Implications for Mexico,” Southwest Hydrology, 2005/2004. 
  • “The Last Green Lagoon: How and Why the Bush Administration Should Save the Colorado River Delta,” Ecology Law Quarterly, 2002. 
  • “Searching for Cíbola: Community-Based Environmental Restoration in the Colorado River Watershed,” Arizona Law Review, 2000. 
  • “Feasibility of Purchase and Transfer of Water for Instream Flow in the Colorado River Delta,” Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, 2000, winner, 2000 Lillian S. Fisher Prize in Public Policy.

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