Friday, May 15, 2009

Water Rights, Water Use and Sustainable Life

The Felicity Barringer reported for the NY Times yesterday that due to the increasing drought in California farmers have been pumping more groundwater to irrigate their crops, lowering the level of the groundwater. As a result the state has begun to try and collect data on groundwater supplies with an eye to regulation. When the level of groundwater falls it is an indication that water use is unsustainable. California, my former home, is a semi-arid state rich with sun shine and a long growing season, but all crops need to be irrigated. There is a huge demand for water for farming and for people, and limited water resources to supply it. California seems to go through drought cycles, but the long term forecasts by the climate change model builders is that water resources available to the state will decrease as the Sierra snow pack decreases.

According to the US EPA: "Ground water is an important natural resource. More than 50 percent of the people in the United States, including almost everyone who lives in rural areas, use ground water for drinking and other household uses. Ground water is also used in some way by about 75 percent of cities and by many factories. The largest use of ground water is to irrigate crops. We can run out of ground water if more water is discharged than recharged. For example, during periods of dry weather, recharge to the aquifers decreases. If too much ground water is pumped during these times, the water table may fall and wells may go dry.” Wells going dry is what some Californians are worried about. Compliance with the request for water monitoring in California has been limited. Regulation of the water use, charging for private well pumping is something the farmers and rural residents fear.

Americans do not appreciate the true value of clean, potable, on demand water. We take for granted its unlimited availability and overlook the interconnected nature of our water supplies. There are those who think only in the short term, those who do not appreciate the experience of the past, and those who think the past is a perfect predictor of the future. Like 15% of all Americans my water is supplied from a well on my land. All my water comes from groundwater. One of the selection criteria for this house was the water and its quality. Many of the decisions I make on how I live are about protecting my water and the watershed and river in the woods behind my yard. Who owns the water and has rights to it is an interesting question. Ideally, all property owners would see themselves as the custodians of the land resources that they are. We need to think beyond carbon footprint, to understand that all the resources of the earth are limited in some way. Air and water are critical elements of life. Water rights are tied not only to the land but to life.

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