Monday, November 9, 2009

Heretical Questions of Water Use in the Southwest

Laws governing water use have evolved from a way of life that has all but disappeared in Arizona.  The current tangle of regulations, developed haphazardly over time (but earnestly enough at the time) is enough to keep attorneys busy for decades.

Agricultural interests, metropolitan interests, and mining/industrial interests are figuratively coming to blows with the intimation that the end of an unlimited water supply may be in sight.

People are beginning to realize, at least speculatively, that business as usual is about to end and water use will most likely have to be regulated, allocated or governed in some way.  Regulation and allocation are bitter concepts in a largely conservative state.

Let’s look at some issues and questions…

Should water be privately owned and should ownership be couched in terms of “rights” by special interest groups or corporate entities?  Stated differently, is water a public commodity to be held in trust by the state and dispensed equitably for the common good – or – is it owned, as is a mineral deposit, and mined for personal gain? 

Should water, controlled by public-private partnerships (PPPs), make profits by delivering water to the very people who may own it in the first place?

Should water be delivered by a public utility which would allow suppliers minimal profits to cover current costs and future investment?

Should water utilities be governed by a Public Utilities Commission that sets rates for consumers?  And profit levels for suppliers?

Is it necessary to grow cotton on thousands of acres of desert land that wouldn’t otherwise support this crop without irrigation? 

Would the irrigation used to supply plants be better spent in the Southwest by supplying people?  Not a foolish question.  Looked at differently, if you were packing in the back country with a few liters of water would you consume the limited water you had or would you feed the nearest mesquite tree? 

To continue this ridiculous analogy -- am I stealing water from the Salt River Project (SRP), for instance, if I filter a liter from the Verde River (or the Gila River, or Colorado River) and don’t replace it.

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