Sunday, July 12, 2020

WATER WARS, Ch. 10, Policy Options

Water Wars Sharing the Colorado River

Population growth and rising standards of living mean that more clean water will be needed. Where will it come from? In the abstract, we need to think about ways of generating more clean water, using it more efficiently and wasting less, and sharing it better, where “better” will have different definitions to different interests, because “where you stand depends on where you sit.”
The global scale of the water crisis caused formation of international mechanisms for research and regulation of the problem. The mechanism “UN - Water Resources”( is aimed at the realization of the profile tasks. It coordinates the actions of 26 international organizations in the UN system and contributes to solving the problems in the field of water supply and sanitation identified in the discussions at the world summits on sustainable development and climate conferences (UNESCO, 2009).
In 2003, having stated that water is essential for sustainable development, including the preservation of the natural environment and the reduction of poverty and hunger, and that without water we cannot ensure the health and well-being of the population, the UN General Assembly declared 2005-2015 the International Decade for Action, Water for Life (UNESCO, 2009). The primary objective of this specific project is to encourage efforts to fulfill the international commitments on water. The activities of the United Nations on the formation of a system for the global regulation of water resources are based on a variety of programs conducted through other multilateral institutions, especially UNESCO (UN, 2009).


An exceptional contribution to the solution of problems of rational water consumption is made by a program of the U.S. Air Force, “Virtual Water.” It is about determining the volume of water that is contained in food or other products (Dang, Lin, and Konar, 2015). For example, to produce one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of wheat, about 1000 liters (250 gallons) of water is needed: i.e., the “virtual water” of this kilogram of wheat is 1000 liters, 1000 kg. For meat, approximately 5-10 times more water is needed (Dang et al, 2015). The consumption of virtual water per person in the diet is dependent on the type of diet and varies from one cubic meter per day, 1 m3 / day, typical for the ration necessary for survival, up to 2.6 m3 / day, inherent in the vegetarian diet, and more than 5 m3 / day, necessary for the American diet with consumption of a significant amount of meat (Dang et al. 2015).
When trading food crops, or any other goods, there is a virtual flow of water from producing or exporting countries to countries that consume and import these goods. Countries with water shortages can import products that require large volumes of water in their production, instead of producing them at home. Thus, this allows importers to save water, reducing the burden on their water resources or releasing water for other purposes (Dang et al. 2015).


Both governmental and non-governmental structures are involved in water issues. The most important is the Global Water Partnership (GWP), which was established in 1996 as an international network of organizations (public, private, regional, scientific, project) involved in water resources management (Dang et al. 2015). The main tasks of the GWP are the development and implementation of the principles of integrated water resources management, the exchange of information and experience (UNESCO, 2009). The GWP aims to promote ideas for the establishment of Integrated Water Resources Management (Gayfer, 2008). The headquarters of the GWP is in Stockholm. In its activities, this structure is guided by the Dublin principles in the field of water resources (Gayfer, 2008).
The predominant non-governmental organization (NGO) dealing with water issues is the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, established in 1948 in France (IUCN, 2018). Forecasting situations, as well as assessing the state of natural resources, the IUCN continues to deal with the analysts of the Club of Rome. They, as well as representatives of the academic community, are actively working to replenish data banks on global water resources, in cooperation with intergovernmental bodies, and participate in the United Nations World Water Assessment Program. Several specialized research organizations, such as the International Water Management Institute and the Swedish International Water Institute, are involved in assessing the water situation, forecasting, and studying the conflict potential of water resources (Mancosu, Snyder, Kyriakakis, and Spano, 2015). The projects implemented within these centers are essential for forming objective representations and developing practical solutions for water issues (Mancosu et al. 2015).
At the same time, it must be emphasized that, in general, the world’s water resources are still regulated primarily by the interaction of countries located in the zone of transboundary watercourses (for example, agreements on the joint use of the water resources of rivers such as the Nile, the Rhine, the Danube, Mekong, and others) (Mancosu et al. 2015). Each of these agreements is very specific – due to the specifics of the basins they regulate, and universalization is problematic.
Along with these pacts, acts of international legal regulation of the regime of transboundary waters operate. The primary documents of this kind are the “Rules for the Use of Waters of International Rivers” (Helsinki Rules), the “UN Convention on the Non-Navigational Usage of International Watercourses,” and the “Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes” (Mancosu et al., 2015). The importance of these documents cannot be overestimated, but they are of a relatively general (recommendatory) nature, affecting mainly environmental problems. To a lesser extent, they concern the problems of river water management. They generally lack mechanisms for resolving disputes, and only the legislative and regulatory framework has been initially developed.
The need to develop conventional approaches to the distribution of water resources of Transboundary Rivers is obvious (Mancosu et al., 2015). The most developed and comprehensive is the EU regulatory framework. In 2000, the EU Water Framework Directive (WFD) came into force (Arpon, Giakoumis, and Voulvolis, 2017). It sets out the principles, objectives, and methods for achieving an “appropriate ecological state” in the basins of national and international rivers of 27 Member States, as well as Switzerland, Norway, and neighboring countries (Arpon et al., 2017). The WFD establishes framework requirements for the protection of all types of waters, including surface water of dry land, transit and coastal waters, and groundwater (Arpon et al., 2017).
Although some approaches can be adopted to increase the supply of potable water in the world’s rivers, lakes, and reservoirs, much of the emphasis in policy development has been with respect to managing demand.
According to Betsy Otto, director of the World Resources Institute’s global water program, economic development and adequate clean water have often come in conflict [ agenda/2015/01/why-world-water-crises-are-a-top-global-risk/]. She maintains that water conservation is almost always less expensive than developing new sources. She makes the case for a two-tier pricing structure, with a modest quantity of water available at reduced rates, and more than that at much higher charges. The same article quotes Vanda Felbab-Brown, a senior policy analyst at the Brookings Institution to the effect that one cannot expect free water any more than one can expect free food, and there are ways of reducing water theft, such as better law enforcement, careful water monitoring, and the creation of comprehensive databases.
California has had periods of extreme water shortage, giving rise to proposals to limit the private citizens’ water use. Cape Town, South Africa, has its own “water police” to enforce rules to take the average daily water consumption to 13 gallons per day. To put this in perspective, the average American uses 80 to 100 gallons daily [http://www. drought-returns-to-huge-swaths-of-us-fueling-fears-of-a-thirsty-future]. This reference also notes that Arizona has passed a law that new housing developments must show they can expect 100 years of water supply. Arizona is using less water than 50 years ago despite having 5 million more people. The State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) empowers the granting of low-interest loans for water projects. Texas will be putting in new reservoirs and taking steps to prevent water leaks and wastage.


One way that government influences environmental markets is through the tax policies it adopts. Recently, a bill entitled “H.R. 519 Water and Agricultural Tax Reform Act of 2018” has been introduced through the U.S. House of Representatives, with its stated purpose, “To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to facilitate water leasing and water transfers to promote conservation and efficiency.” The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed the impacts of the bill, which it described as follows (, “H.R. 519 would amend the Internal Revenue Code by modifying the tax exemption requirements for mutual ditch and irrigation companies. The bill excludes certain types of income when determining whether those companies qualify for a Federal income tax exemption in a given year, potentially qualifying more of those companies for the exemption.”
The CBO Summary concludes, “The staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) estimates that enacting H.R. 519 would reduce revenues by $39 million over the 2018-2028 period.”
Despite the grand title of the Act, it appears to expect to have about a $4 million/year impact on the totality of these companies. This would seem rather small.


This section of ours takes its title from the extensive and definitive work (Kenney et al., 2011) of scholars Douglas Kenney, Sara Bates, Anne Bensard, and John Berggren [
Resources/LawOfTheRiver/ColoradoRiverInevitabilityOfInstitutional ChangeKenney2011.pdf], published in Volume 32 of the Public Land and Resources Law Review, pp.103-152.
Noting that the Colorado River is one of the most thoroughly studied natural resources in the world, the authors comment, “By almost any standard, it is the jewel of the American Southwest–and it is in trouble.” Its many major contributions to the region are threatened by predicted increases in the demand for its waters while its flow is likely to decrease. [ ColoradoRiverInevitabilityOfInstitutionalChangeKenney2011.pdf] The fundamental problems are: a complex set of legal arrangements for its use, a projected shortfall between the allowed allocations and the expected flow in the future, and the legal ambiguities involved in settling claims to the flow.
The authors begin with a review of the Law of the River, the web of some fifty or so laws and agreements that covers the use of waters of the Colorado River. The Law governs the sharing of the rivers water between the states of the Upper Basin (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico) and the Lower Basin (California, Arizona, and Nevada) and provides for future development of the region as well as for the contingencies that may arise from reduced flow of the Colorado River. The fundamental document is the Colorado River Compact of 1922, but there have been many subsequent legislative and judicial additions. Subsidiary issues include the rights of Mexico and the Navajo nation to water allocations, too.
Unfortunately, the water allocations in the Law are largely based on an assumed total flow of 15 million acre-feet (maf), characteristic perhaps of an earlier era, but now an over-estimate, aggravating the mismatch between supply and demand that is increasing yearly.
Five issues are highlighted:
        The Upper Basin Delivery Obligation
        The Interbasin Apportionment
        Deliveries to Mexico
        Administration of Compact Calls
        Compact Rescission or Reformation
Most readings of the laws have concluded that the Upper Basin rights are subsidiary to those of the Lower Basin, which these interpretations give first call on the water flow in times of shortage.
The Compact of 1922 called for “equitable” division of the waters of the Colorado between the Upper and Lower Basins, but some interpretations have read this as “equal” division.
During non-drought periods, the Upper Basin is obligated to allow the delivery of half of the 1.5 maf of water due yearly to Mexico, per the Treaty of 1944. Whether tributary flows in the Lower Basin can be counted to reduce what the Upper Basin must supply is in question. When shortage conditions exist, however, the proper allocation becomes disputed, especially during “extraordinary drought.”
Under the Compact and its prior-appropriation system, if there is a shortage, the administrator issues a “call,” requiring those with less senior rights to forego some or all their usage in favor of those with the most senior rights. Although this has yet to happen, it could. If it should, the authors expect “bitterness, data deficiencies, and legal challenges.”
Rescission (voiding) or reformation (revising, altering) of the compact is possible, but fraught with legal complexities.
Much of the latter part of the document involves describing the opinions of many of the leaders of the Colorado River Basin. In sum,
        they recognized the need for change due to increased risk of shortages;
        they preferred conflict resolution to litigation;
        they desired more diverse input into resolving the issues.
Options favored included:
        getting more public involvement in the issues,
        obtaining more agreement on the ways to handle a variety of river-flow scenarios,
        studying the current and future use of the river water,
        harnessing the political modalities to regulate the relationships between the Upper and Lower Basins and among the states involved.

This summary has only scratched the surface of this extensive work of 49 pages and 283 footnotes. 

I will continue serializing here the Microsoft Word transcription of the final galley proof .pdf copy ot WATER WARS, and the book itself  is most conveniently found at

or at DWC's author's book title list

No comments:

Post a Comment