Ain't this a kick in the head? If'n it ain't one thing, it be another.
I 'spose monsatano/novartis/sygenta/dow will soon be claiming the
oxygen and sunlight. What an effed up mess, Billy. Never mind the
thousands of Indian farmers committing suicide after being duped by
The Latest Absurdity in the Fight to Conserve Water: Making Rainwater
By Yee Huang , Center for Progressive Reform
Posted on April 13, 2009, Printed on April 17, 2009
A recent article in the Los Angeles Times described the latest
absurdity in the never-ending search to quench the thirst for water:
ownership of rainwater and, more precisely, the illegality of
rainwater harvesting. Residents and communities in parts of Colorado
are turning to this ancient practice of collecting and storing rain to
fulfill their domestic water needs, including flushing toilets and
watering lawns. Using this “grey” water, as it is called, relieves
pressure on water resources and can be extremely efficient.
Many long-time water users, however, object to the practice.
These so-called water buffaloes argue that people who collect
rainwater are taking away from their water by collecting the water
before it has a chance to flow into a river from which they obtain
water. Effectively, they argue, the rainwater belongs to them – they
own the rain that falls from the sky as part of their water
allocation, even though 97 percent of the rainfall that falls on soil
does not reach a river. The bad news? The law in Colorado stands
behind those water buffaloes.
Like most states west of the one-hundredth meridian, Colorado follows
the doctrine of prior appropriation to allocate water. For all water
uses that are non-domestic, a person must have a water right. Water
rights are assigned a priority date, which is the date that the water
use was initiated.
Under prior appropriation, these senior water users – many of whom
have rights dating back to the 1800’s – have priority in times of
water shortages based on the date of their initiation. Their water
allocation is fulfilled before any junior users, who are often left
with a nominal amount of water. People who harvest rainwater are
“interfering” with the priority system by jumping ahead of all the
senior users, who have the first right to use the water.
This dogmatic adherence to temporal priority blocks efforts to acquire
water rights for newer or more efficient uses, such as in-stream
conservation and recreation. These uses, initiated relatively
recently, will always be subordinate to older, more consumptive uses.
Ownership of water has always been a tenuous proposition. Water and
water rights linger on the perimeter of traditional property rights,
eluding the solid “property” categorization of items like land or
salad bowls. Individual water molecules cannot be marked or
identified, and water is in constant motion, swirling below, above,
and around the earth in the global hydrologic cycle. More
significantly, water is survival for the vast array of living
creatures on this planet, so privatizing the world’s most precious
liquid would necessarily create a divide between haves and have-nots.
Whether or not water is definitively property has great legal
implications for constitutional and civil claims, and courts have not
given clear or consistent guidance. If, for example, water is
considered a property right and the government required reduced water
delivery to irrigators under the Endangered Species Act, those
irrigators might have a valid claim for compensation under a Fifth
Amendment takings claim. CPR Member Scholar Dan Tarlock blogged about
this specific issue here. Categorizing water as a private property
right also facilitates the commodification of water, which often
ignores the common public interest in water quantity, quality, and
Many water rights are colored by the public trust doctrine, which
holds that certain natural resources cannot be privately owned and
instead must be held in trust by the government for the use and
benefit of the public. This doctrine, an inherent component of a
water right, tends to support the argument that water is not a matter
of private property. As inexpensive supplies of water dwindle, how
water is viewed as a private property will become increasingly
important to water allocation and priorities.
In other parts of the West, states are exploring the idea of rainwater
harvesting. Santa Fe, New Mexico, became the first city to require by
ordinance rainwater harvesting on all new residential or commercial
structures of a certain size. Tucson, Arizona, became the first city
to require rainwater harvesting to provide 50 percent of
landscape-irrigation needs. Even Colorado has reconsidered its
position, recently passing a bill that permits extremely limited
instances of rainwater harvesting. It remains illegal for most
individual residents to harvest rainwater.
Given an increase in population and per capita consumption, coupled
with water needs to restore and maintain aquatic ecosystems, perhaps
those water buffaloes need to lower their horns and let other
creatures sip from the limited watering holes in the West.
Yee Huang, J.D., L.L.M, joined the Center for Progressive Reform as a
Policy Analyst in December 2008. Her public interest experience
includes internships with the Department of State in Vienna, Austria,
and Windhoek, Namibia.
© 2009 Center for Progressive Reform All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/136477 /