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Water Wars are Fierce, and They’re About to get Fiercer

Water Wars are Fierce, and They’re About to get Fiercer

Almost 40 years after Roman Polanski’s classic noir film Chinatown captivated audiences, the resource conflict that inspired it is still raging. Ever since the Southwest was settled by Europeans, the question of water — where to find it, how to transport it, how to secure it and where to store it — has been both a pressing and limiting question. The glittering swimming pools of Los Angeles and endless fountains of Las Vegas hide something deep, dark and dirty: all that water in the desert has to come from somewhere.

Globally, conflicts over water rights are a growing issue, with some concerned advocates arguing that they’re only going to become more pressing with time and should be considered the next global conflict issue. Yet, most Americans think of water wars as an issue for the developing world, something found in places like Darfur and India. That couldn’t be further from the truth, with the American Southwest actually locked in a bitter battle across multiple states as well as Mexico, arguing over who deserves the biggest chunk of the precious Rio Grande and other critical water resources.

For many of us, water is the thing that flows out of the tap when you turn it. Domestic use of water is actually relatively low, even including dishwashers and washing machines, in comparison with other demands on water resources. Manufacturing and agriculture eat up vast amounts of water annually, and much of that water is lost to runoff and pollution, making it unrecoverable.

Critically, when water is taken or diverted from waterways for human use, it also has a profound effect on the environment. As riverbeds grow more shallow, many fish species cannot survive in the shallower, warmer water, which causes a decline in diversity (as well as forcing native people to adapt their way of life to changes in their food sources). Algae and invasive plant species may move in, while trees and plants along the banks of the river may die off or change in character due to fluctuations in the water supply.

A ripple effect occurs as gallons are taken out of the environment and moved, sometimes hundreds or thousands of miles, for different populations to use; Southern California, for instance, buys substantial water from Northern California, forcing that region of the state to modify its water use habits to support the southern half. And not all parties play nicely: the American West has a water use doctrine effectively based on “first come, first served” which hasn’t turned out well for anyone.

That’s what led to the infamous water wars that lay at the heart of Chinatown, as people struggled for control of a resource they realized was only going to become more valuable. Now, as states and nations compete for access to the limited water resources of the Southwest, it’s becoming a major sticking point in trade agreements and relations across borders, and it’s a huge presence in the courts, where lawsuits surrounding water rights, conservation plans and control of water resources abound.

Regulators are facing tough choices in the coming years not just in California, Arizona, Texas and New Mexico, four states where water issues are particularly acute, but also in Nevada, Oregon and neighboring states. They’re going to need to balance the interests of the environment, which many advocates as well as government agencies argue has an intrinsic right to water supplies, with demands of human industry as well as households. In states where people are already used to drought conditions and water use restrictions, those restrictions are likely to get tighter, and they’re going to spread.

For California in particular, where so much of the nation’s produce is grown, that could result in some drastic changes. If, as is threatened, water use in the agricultural sector is limited to protect the precious resources of the Central Valley, this may change the character of what farmers produce and where they produce it. Farmers may begin pasturing less cattle, for example, and could turn away from water-heavy crops like rice and lettuce.

As the human population grows and pressure increases, what kinds of changes will we see as government agencies attempt the juggling act of protecting the environment and people at the same time?

 

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Photo credit: City of Albuquerque

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93 comments

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9:54AM PDT on Jul 24, 2013

"No one appreciated the value of water until the well is dry." Don and I CAN! :-))

5:25AM PDT on Jul 24, 2013

thanks for sharing :)

12:25PM PDT on Jul 8, 2013

H2O

6:46PM PDT on Jun 30, 2013

This is genuinely scary. I live in MN and every yr the Mississippi R, the Missouri R, the Red R, and others flood from the snowmelt, and spring "showers". Some flood more than others, ie Fargo-Moorhead area, lie on floodplains - flat as far as the eye can see. Isn't there some way to catch that destructive fresh water before the floods? Someway to get it before these mega-corps buy up the rain from the sky and all the snowfall.

How can we slow the inevitable, besides not buying bottled water, which I think many of us aleady don't?

How can we protest the sale of our fresh water to China? How can we make a stand and keep the water here for those states that need it? Keep it here for the crops needed by our own country?

What will it take to give some, forget all, of these mega-corporations some sort of conscience??

Like I said genuinely scary...

6:08PM PDT on Jun 26, 2013

first thing we need to do is ban all watering of turf lawns and think about limiting on how industrial water is used and recycled

4:18AM PDT on Jun 26, 2013

DEBORAH L: "Thank you" so very much for the heads-up. I was totally unaware of these laws and was really knocked on my backside by the information. Was up until after 0200 CST this morning (couldn't sleep) researching the information you provided. WOW! And, WOW! The only only think that I can say is that these absolutely stupid and totally unnecessary laws were passed by a bunch of "igronanuses".


For everyone out there living in any of these states; which the exception of UTAH, which amended its' law in 2010) contact your local and state representatives and get the laws removed from the books.


Also, if anyone is ticketed for breaking these laws, I suggest that you fight them. There are a lot of great lawyers out there who would be more than willing to assist you. Don and I CAN! :-))

10:02PM PDT on Jun 25, 2013

con't.
sorry about the duplicate. site not working well for me tonight.

There is a lot in information online. The first time I heard about this may have been an article on Care2, 2-3 years ago.
And Care2 lost all my information. I joined in Feb. 27, 2008, and not 2011.I had about 80 friends - all lost, all the butterfly points and gifts lost and all my info and groups too.

10:01PM PDT on Jun 25, 2013

Don S: There are about 9 states but an having a hard time finding the whole list, but Utah, Washington, parts of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Oregon. In Oregon man was arrested for harvesting rainwater. Laws have been on the books for a long time in many states like Washington, Utah. This is mostly in the Midwest especially since the droughts and more states are being added.

As for the wells on your property, most every city in America that has city water. I have city water, which has become so expensive as the city is broke and they have added a $55.00 a month fee to fund the city. I use 1-2 cu.ft of water per month. Which cost me$69-$79/mth. We the homeowners are banned from having a well on our property because their is city water available.
One major corporation had been buying up water rights(probably Nestle's after what their CEO said)*. Those water rights include all the water under the ground-your property's well is okay, but the water YOU take from it belongs to them, therefore you are stealing it. All the water on the earth surface they can and the water that comes from the sky including: snow, rain, hail, sleet. etc... you get the picture.

Google "corporations buying up water rights worldwide and check them out.

* CEO of Nestle's said in a meeting which the recording was released to the public. " Water is not a Human Right, it should be privatized."

There is a lot in information online. The first time I heard about this may have been an article

10:00PM PDT on Jun 25, 2013

Don S: There are about 9 states but an having a hard time finding the whole list, but Utah, Washington, parts of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, Oregon. In Oregon man was arrested for harvesting rainwater. Laws have been on the books for a long time in many states like Washington, Utah. This is mostly in the Midwest especially since the droughts and more states are being added.

As for the wells on your property, most every city in America that has city water. I have city water, which has become so expensive as the city is broke and they have added a $55.00 a month fee to fund the city. I use 1-2 cu.ft of water per month. Which cost me$69-$79/mth. We the homeowners are banned from having a well on our property because their is city water available.
One major corporation had been buying up water rights(probably Nestle's after what their CEO said)*. Those water rights include all the water under the ground-your property's well is okay, but the water YOU take from it belongs to them, therefore you are stealing it. All the water on the earth surface they can and the water that comes from the sky including: snow, rain, hail, sleet. etc... you get the picture.

Google "corporations buying up water rights worldwide and check them out.

* CEO of Nestle's said in a meeting which the recording was released to the public. " Water is not a Human Right, it should be privatized."

There is a lot in information online. The first time I heard about this may have been an article

10:21AM PDT on Jun 25, 2013

DEBORAH: You definitely made me sit up and take notice; but because I've got so darn much to digest, I going to start with just your first two (2) sentences. I'd like to know:

1. Where in the US is it illegal to capture rain water? We've got five (5) barrels.

2. Where in the US is it illegal to have a water well on your property?

Don and I CAN! :-))

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