Leah J. Wilds, Ph.D.

Associate Professor

Areas of Interest:  Public Policy, Environmental Politics (global and domestic), Western Land and Water Resources.


B.A., University of Georgia, English literature, 1980
M.A. and Ph.D. degrees, Colorado State University, 1984 and 1988


Associate Professor Leah Wild’s research interests have focused on western water policy, especially in the Great Basin.  She recently wrote “Water Politics in Northern Nevada: A Century of Struggle,” which was published by the University of Nevada Press in September 2010.

“Water Politics” focuses on efforts to end the “wars over the waters of the Truckee River” that had been raging for more than 100 years, as a result of passage of the Reclamation Act of 1902. Under the authority of this act, the federal government assumed responsibility for constructing reclamation projects in the American West. These projects were designed to capture, store and divert sparse water supplies to support irrigated agriculture in the American west. The first reclamation project constructed under this act was the Newlands Project in north central Nevada. It was completed and in operation by 1915. 

The Newlands Project diverted water from the Carson and Truckee Rivers and stored it for the purpose of farmland irrigation. Since the natural terminus of the Truckee River was Pyramid Lake, the project diverted water that would have entered the lake. Consequently, the lake level dropped 80 feet, salinity levels increased dramatically and the two fish species in the lake were listed as endangered.

“The decrease in flows over the years not only threatened the fish and their ability to spawn, but the decreased volume of water in the lake threatened the lake's ability to support any aquatic life,” Wilds said.

Litigation was the inevitable result, as the Pyramid Lake Tribe, environmental groups, farmers, affected cities, the states of California and Nevada fought for increased shares of Nevada’s most precious resource. Because the federal government was a party to most of this litigation, it began to intervene in conflicts surrounding federally sponsored irrigation projects, which had arisen all over the American west.

“The federal government encouraged the parties in litigation over the Newlands Project waters to enter negotiations to overcome their differences,” Wilds said. “The end result has been a much more flexible operating system for the river, enabling competing users to have most of their water needs met most of the time.”

The end result was passage of Public Law 101-618, popularly called the “Negotiated Settlement,” in 1990. This in turn led to led to the Truckee River Operating Agreement, which was concluded in September 2008. This agreement had been 17 years in the making. Wilds began work on the book in 2007, in an effort to “capture the context in which those policies are made.” 

“I believed it was time for the whole story to be told...to anyone who wanted to understand the changing context of western water policy,” Wilds said.

Wilds is also writing a second book on the efforts to save Walker Lake, which she started in 2009, as part of a federally-sponsored Walker River Project. That book will be influenced by the lessons learned from and reported in Water Politics in Northern Nevada.  

“We need to continue to discover ways to resolve or avoid future water conflicts. Lessons learned from past and ongoing efforts to accomplish those two goals can be applied elsewhere,” Wilds said.

In addition to Wilds' research projects, she teaches classes on public policy with a focus on environmental policy. Her classes in that area include Environmental Politics and Global Environmental Politics. She also teaches undergraduate and graduate Public Policy courses, Politics and Literature and Core Humanities 203. Wilds received the Senator Alan Bible Teaching Excellence Award in 1997/1998. She also won the President's Outstanding Service Award in 2008.

In addition to the above accomplishments, Wilds has served as the Chair of the Faculty Senate (two terms), the President of the UNR Chapter of the Nevada Faculty Alliance, and the Chair of the Political Science Department.




  • Water Politics in Northern Nevada:  A Century of Struggle, September 2010, University of Nevada Press.
  • "The Saga Continues: Implementing the Negotiated Settlement" (with Richard Acton), in Nevada Historical Society Quarterly, Volume 48, No. 2 (Summer 2005):315-332.
  • “The Water Challenge: Contemporary Issues in Northern Nevada” (with Richard Acton), in Nevada in the New Millennium (Dennis L. Soden and Eric Herzik, eds.).  Dubuque: Kendall-Hunt Publishers, 2001. 
  • Coming to Terms: Aboriginal Resource Rights in Contemporary Australia. Canberra, Australia: Commonwealth Scientific, Industrial Research Organisation, 1998.
  • Politics, Culture and Society: Readings in the American Tradition (with Richard Davies and John Marini). New York, N.Y.: McGraw Hill: 1993.
  • Understanding Who Wins: Organizational Behavior and Environmental Politics. New York, N.Y.: Garland Publishing Company, 1990.
  • The Imperial Congress: Crisis in the Separation of Powers, co-edited with Gordon S. Jones, World Almanac, 1989.
  • The Legal-Institutional Analysis Model: A Validation Study.  Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, U.S.F.W.S. Biological Report 88(33), 1988.



Leah Wilds, Ph.D.

Associate Professor
(775) 682-7773