Who owns the water?
July 25, 2015
Who does own the water? Doesn’t it fall from the sky as rain or snow? Doesn’t it create rivers, lakes, streams, aquifers and such? Just because it falls out of the sky on your property, does it mean that you own it? Maybe the rain was formed by evaporation from water on your property and fell on someone elses. Maybe it was formed by evaporation from the ocean. Who owns that water? As we can see, these are tough questions. Not tough many years ago, but becoming tougher now that we are in short supply. And now that this short supply has become exacerbated by lack of adequate rainfall and snowmelt, it is becoming the battle of the day and legal warfare.
It was more than a few years ago, on a plane returning to California, when the awareness of this question came to mind. I was sitting next to a man by the name of Oppenheimer, son of General Oppenheimer, the founder of the Kansas City firm, Oppenheimer Industries. They own ranchland in the Southwest, which, I assume, makes water rights important to them.
He made me aware of the water rights situation in this country, explaining that water rights, although not a new legal issue, was becoming rapidly more important, particularly in the western part of the country.
Now I better understand his concern. We have a problem of providing enough water to fill the needs of our growing population and those who own the rights to the water may be in the driver’s seat. This, of course, is becoming a huge issue now that Mother Nature has made us aware that she is actually in control of this commodity of short supply.
We discussed recently on this site the serious depletion of the huge underground water source that is utilized by numerous states in the Midwest, the Ogallala Aquifer. Now the discussion is about the huge water source for numerous states in the West, the Colorado River.
The Colorado River is fed by the snowmelt of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and meanders 1,450 miles through Utah, Nevada, California, and Arizona and terminates in Mexico into the Gulf of California. The Colorado River Basin includes parts of these states as well as parts of New Mexico and Wyoming. This is the river that is dammed up for hydroelectric power at the famous Hoover Dam in Nevada.
William Yardley, in his Los Angeles Times article, “Running Dry”, tells us that 40 million people depend upon this river and this number could double in 50 years. The saddest part of the story is that we are in the 16th year of a drought and the river cannot continue to meet the needs of the urban, agricultural, hydroelectric and recreation demands that it now serves.
Some fields that now produce crops may have to remain fallow. Some communities may have to recycle waste water and restrict urban growth. Las Vegas gets their water from the Hoover Dam project. The farms in California, Arizona and New Mexico rely on this water to grow the crops that feed a large portion of the nation.
The water from this river is now legally apportioned as follows: 4.4 million acre feet to California, 3.9 to Colorado, 2.85 to Arizona, 1.7 to Utah, 1.0 to Wyoming, .85 to New Mexico, .3 to Nevada.
As we can imagine, there will be a battle brewing for reapportionment which should keep the legal profession in those parts busy for years, but the outcome, no matter the apportionment, will be the same – there won’t be enough to go around.
We obviously have to take water more seriously.
Think about it!