California is not alone in its water wars, nor the nearest to outright armed stand-offs. All through the South West the situation is dire, and the scaffolding of agreements from which decisions are to be made, looking increasingly rickity.
Just outside this minuscule farm town, Frank DeStefano was feeding a 500-acre cotton crop with water from the Brazos River 16 months ago when state regulators told him and hundreds of others on the river to shut down their pumps. A sprawling petrochemical complex at the junction of the Brazos and the Gulf of Mexico held senior rights to the river’s water — and with the Brazos shriveled, it had run short.
State regulators ordered Mr. DeStefano and others with lesser rights to make up the deficit. But they gave cities and power plants along the Brazos a pass, concluding that public health and safety overrode the farmers’ own water rights.
Now Mr. DeStefano and other farmers are in court, arguing that the state is wrong — and so far, they are winning.
…In southern Texas, along the Gulf coast southwest of Houston, the state has cut off deliveries of river water to rice farmers for three years to sustain reservoirs that supply booming Austin, about 100 miles upstream.
In Nevada, a coalition ranging from environmentalists to the Utah League of Women Voters filed federal lawsuits last month seeking to block a pipeline that would supply Las Vegas with groundwater from an aquifer straddling the Nevada-Utah border.
In Colorado, officials in the largely rural west slope of the Rocky Mountains are imposing stiff restrictions on requests to ship water across the mountains to Denver and the rest of the state’s populous eastern half. Fearing for their existence, Colorado farm towns on the Arkansas River have mobilized to block sales of local water rights to Denver’s fast-growing suburbs.
In Arizona, activists and the federal government are fighting plans to tap groundwater used by a vast housing development — a move that would reduce the water level of a protected river.
Kansas accuses Colorado and Nebraska of allowing their farmers to divert Kansas’ share of the Republican River, which flows through all three states.
And the Rules?
In Texas, landowners own the groundwater beneath their property, but a neighbor pumping groundwater from the same aquifer can siphon it away without penalty.
The Arizona court battle over a proposed housing development hinges on the still-murky question of whether the state can allow the builder to pump groundwater that sustains a river that is under federal control.
The prevailing law on rivers and streams is all too clear: The earlier someone stakes a claim on a stretch of water, the more bulletproof that owner’s right to it.
“If you’ve got the oldest claim on that river, you get to use that water regardless of what you’re using it for — agriculture, industry, whatever,” said Gabriel Eckstein, a professor at Texas A & M University School of Law and a lawyer with Sullivan and Worcester. “That’s regardless of whether you’re doing it efficiently, regardless of whether it’s the highest use.”
Meanwhile, large segments of our elected decision makers are spending precious hours and court time on whether your marriage threatens my marriage or whether the poor are poor because they won’t work…
Paying Attention to the Water… NY Times: Wines