Article Review: “The Clean, Reliable Water Supplies for the West”
Water is an essential resource to the quality of life, the economy, as well as the natural environment. In the West, the demand for water has increased dramatically in recent years, and this has placed a lot of strain on this precious but limited resource. The Governors in the West fully acknowledge the significance of water in this region, and this has resulted in several policies and projects on issues of water (Western Governors’ Association and Western States Water Council 5). The Western Governors’ Association in conjunction with the Western States Water Council has collaborated on various projects and policies on drought preparedness, infrastructure, strategies, and Indian water rights. All these efforts are meant to establish means of ensuring that this scarce natural resource gets to new users in a way that does not compromise existing laws, policies, and regulations on the management of water and other natural resources.
Water is not only a scarce but also a crucial resource for the industries, habitats, communities, and farms supported by it in the West. The provision of clean and reliable water is vital for maintaining and enhancing the overall quality of life. States are the key authorities when it comes to the allocation, protection, development, and administration of water resources. In addition, it is the core duty of states to manage the supply of water resources within their boundaries. Accordingly, states have the final word on how water resources are to be managed. Most of the communities in the West expect to encounter many hindrances in their quest to meet their increased demand for water in the future. The rise in demand for water in the West is largely attributed to economic development, population growth, and extreme fire and weather events (Western Governors’ Association and Western States Water Council 6). Sustainability of natural resources in general and water in particular is a guiding light in the tenets on which the West was developed. Therefore, if at all the West is to attain growth and development, there is a need to acknowledge the role of state in the stewardship of water as a unique resource.
In their joint 2012 report titled, “Clean, Reliable, Water Supply for the West”, the Western Governors’ Association and the Western States Water Council note that water scarcity in the West forces cities, energy developers, industries, and individual users to “seek new secure water supplies” (Western Governors’ Association and Western States Water Council 7). Increasingly, these entities look to voluntary water transfers to make up for the shortfall in their water supply. The joint report has defined water transfers as “a voluntary agreement that results in temporary or permanent change in the type, time, or place of use of water and/or a water right” (Western Governors’ Association and Western States Water Council 7).
Throughout the West, water transfers are now a very common occurrence, and their significance can only be expected to increase as the rise in demand for water supplies continues to depress the existing limited supplies. In writing the joint report, the aim of the two organizations that helped the author was to offer strategies on how best to ensure equitable and efficient water transfers, without trying to oppose or advance individual transfer proposals.
For nearly three decades, the Western Governors’ Association has been actively involved in campaigns aimed at advocating for water transfers in the West, an indication of just how much this issue is important to this region. On account of the water management challenges and the new demands for this scarce resource that the West is facing, it is predicted that there will be a significant increase in the water transfer activities in the West in the years ahead. At the same time, the Western Governors’’ Association (WGA) recognizes that transfers can be quite costly, contentious, and time consuming. The WGA also acknowledge that transfers may not solve all the water supply need, which is why the Western states intent to continue seeking for novel infrastructure and storage, efficiency and conservation, water reuse projects, and other viable opportunities.
There are several benefits of embracing voluntary water transfers as noted by the WGA report. First, transfers are voluntary, meaning that both the buyer and the seller enter into a transfer agreement “only when it is in each party’s interest” (Western Governors’ Association and Western States Water Council 9). They are also decentralized to accommodate local unique needs and conditions while the flexibility of water transfer markets helps to accommodate “new and emerging uses over time” (Western Governors’ Association and Western States Water Council 9). Water transfers also offer incentives to the users, such as farmers so that they can embrace water-saving practices. The rise in water transfer is likely to drive investment in the management of water resources.
Even as water transfers enable states to allocate water resources where they are needed the most, the report notes that there is bound to be unintended consequences occasioned by changing patterns in the use of water. In addition, if not addressed early enough, these unintended consequences might impact negatively on the rural community, such as their loss of economic activity (Western Governors’ Association and Western States Water Council 23). Water transfers might also involve intense lobbying with complex institutions where decisions are made by more than one individual, such as where water rights are owned by irrigation districts (Western Governors’ Association and Western States Water Council 45). Like the case with business settings, the involvement of private entities in water transfer activities might lead to unwanted negative consequences like artificial price increases. This is because businesspersons are forever looking for opportunities to maximize their profits. However, such third party impacts can be mitigated by employing ATMs (alternative transfer methods). Examples of useful ATMs include water banks, leases, and rotational furrowing.
In the report provided, the authors have underscored the crucial role of state in defining and implementing property rights in water. This is aimed at ensuring that markets serve the society. The report has also provided a detailed outline of intra-state water transfers in the West. It is important to mention that the report has only taken into account voluntary transfers.
The report has also examined various public policy considerations as they impact on water transfers. Nearly all the Western states operate on what is popularly known as the “no-injury” rule (Western Governors’ Association and Western States Water Council 33). This is a legal provision that ensures that transfers of water do not alter the delivery of this precious resource to existing water right holders. However, this provision fails to offer protection to flows for recreational enjoyment or national environment. At the same time, state legal mechanisms do not always constitute unforeseen third-party consequences. Western Governors are fully aware of the significance of mitigating or avoiding effects to rural communities. Economic research shows that water transfers coil impact on local economies, albeit at diverse levels. Where rural communities are concerned, water transfer activities could be interpreted as playing a contributing role in the loss of culture. Considering that agriculture is a crucial aspect of the culture and history of the West, this issue should be handled with the seriousness that it deserves.
In undertaking water transfers, it is also important to consider the reserved water rights of the Indians, as well as a the host of water settlement Act (for example, the 1998 Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community Settlement Act). These Acts have been explained in great details by the report. Such acts recognize the unique and diverse water right owners of native tribes, and they need to be respected. This further goes to show how complex water transfer can be. For this reason, states need to acknowledge the public perceptions and impacts of water transfers and devices mechanisms of dealing with these issues.
Water law remains a complex and unique elements of the law. From a legal perspective, water is regarded as both a public good (especially for use by the community) and a privately owned commodity. State constitutions in the West affirm that because water is a common resource, it therefore follows that states should act as the trustees of this resource on behalf of the public. On the other hand, state laws have made provisions for private use of water. Such provisions also take into account techniques to secure novel water transfer rights, and the existing ones. At the same time, there are variations with regard to the types of regulations, policies, and laws used by the Western states in managing water transfers across the region. States are at liberty to share practices and insights in terms of managing water transfers.
Through this report, the Western Governors have acknowledged water transfers as a crucial component in the management of resources in the West. With the demand for water in the West growing by the day, states in the region will find it increasingly harder to provide water to the existing needs. However, through water transfers, the West can hope to deal with this problem. States will find this report by the WGA to be a useful guide, especially with regards to how they can embrace transfer as a strategy for securing their water in future. The WGA is continually entering into collaborations with other like-minded partners and organizations to find ways and means of providing water to existing and new users within the confines of existing water laws, and in a way that recognizes the significance of conventional uses of water. The onus is therefore on Western states and their Governors to identify and enforce innovative strategies that will facilitate water transfers from existing uses, such as agricultural activities to other uses in the energy, commercial, and environment settings. At the same time, such transfers should be done in a way that mitigates or avoids the likely damages to agricultural communities and/or economies.
Western Governors’ Association and Western States Water Council. Water transfers in the
West: Projects, Trends, and Leading Practices in Voluntary Water Trading. The Western
Governors’ Association, Dec. 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2015. <
_West_012.pdf>. Water Transfers in the