Monday, June 29, 2009

Water Harvesting: Legal At Last In Colorado

This piece about water harvesting and conservation in NYTimes caught my eye:

“I was so willing to go to jail for catching water on my roof and watering my garden,” said Tom Bartels, a video producer here in southwestern Colorado, who has been illegally watering his vegetables and fruit trees from tanks attached to his gutters. “But now I’m not a criminal.”

I remember reading Marc Reisner's epic book Cadillac Desert which described the complex water regulations of the U.S. southwest. Every drop is owned by some state or water district or the other before it falls to the ground. But water allocation was apparently done during an unusual wet period and without anticipating the massive growth of population in the deserts. Climate change which is making the southwest drier and population pressures have increasingly made these allocations look unfair. At some point if there is just no more water then no matter how you try divvy up the pie someone is going to come up empty.

In India too damming streams and diverting water that would inhibit natural flow as defined by the local government agency used to be frowned upon and the law has always been unclear about the ownership of water harvesting structures and water. Indeed the state reserved the right to send you notice if it felt that the structures being built were unsafe or that blocking too much water would lead to a shortfall in the government canal and dam system allocations. But water harvesting is done at every level ( see this article) from recharging a well in the backyard to community efforts that have rejuvenated landscapes. The local water authorities don't always like it but don't prosecute because they really can't provide an alternative. Village communities and NGO's get massive grants for water harvesting from funding agencies for an activity that the government is finally realizing is the need of the hour. Many state governments are modifying their Command Area and Irrigation Acts to give farmers and local communities more rights to own and manage local water resources.

It usually takes a long time to change laws and regulations. Sometimes people's behavior and actions may act as a signal that times have changed and the rules must change along with it.

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