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Parlor Talk: How To Deal With Drought In Colorado

Posted by Kyle Baranko on June 18, 2015 at 12:00 AM

California has seen most of the publicity, but the intense water crisis is also expanding across the other Western states at an alarming rate. Because of the shortages, calls for usage reduction and tougher protection measures have sprung up in every local government, leading to an increasing number of disputes. One of the biggest scenes of conflict lies between farmers and urbanites, a debate of who should be required to cut back and who needs the water more. In some areas, both sides have done their fair share, with city-dwellers and suburban families recognizing their luxuries- long showers and bright green lawns to name a few- and ceding some water to agriculture. Some farmers, understanding the dire circumstances and willing to participate, have also adopted cutbacks and sought out more efficient methods. However, in other areas, the conflict has become heated.

In Denver, Colorado, one industrious urbanite bought a large barrel to collect rainwater off his gutter, in what he thought was an efficient and environmentally friendly way to hydrate his home garden. But the man was unaware of his state’s long-standing water collection rules and was actually breaking the law. Alas, as a state in the arid West, Colorado has complex system of rights that claim raindrops just as they fall from the sky. In some old pioneer states, local governments were extremely desperate for economic and agricultural growth about 100 years ago. In order to entice more settlers, they legally gave small farms the written right to siphon off as much water from streams as they wished for crop growth. These old papers are still legitimate today and are legal claims based on seniority, not efficiency. This archaic policy has received scathing criticism, especially from environmentalists. Most laws are not skewed to this extent, as many farmers deserve more water for the benefit of society and still face some restriction. But the reality is that throughout the United States, resource management laws are outdated. 

Fixing these problems will not be easy. It is extremely difficult to decide who gets what, especially when the resource is not fixed on a private property. Water is always moving and isn’t as simple to claim as oil or other natural resources. Controversy over water rights has been a precursor for conflict and even war throughout human history, especially in times of drought and in arid areas. Even in ancient times, one tribe’s move to dam water and bring growth to the society negatively impacts the other civilization downstream. This would inevitably lead to violence. Now, it leads to legal battles. But never before have we seen conflict between two demographics in one small community; such is the extent of water shortage and drought in the world. The water problem has literally been dividing Colorado for several years, as the small agricultural towns in the Eastern, more mountainous region are hesitant to ship the resource West to the more populated areas, like Denver. But even in the immediate area surrounding the state’s largest city, the dichotomy between rural people and city-dwellers is growing. Now it has become a question of who gets first dibs on the rain.

This spring in Colorado, a group of lawmakers attempted to pass a new bill that would give citizens the right to collect a fixed, limited amount of rainwater. Meeting stiff opposition, the movement failed, much to the chagrin of the average citizen. It is odd to think that some people have no right at all to collect their own water; it seems like a system based on fundamental trust in government and its ability to redistribute fairly and efficiently. The scientific arguments for both sides are relatively untested and murky. Some say that most of the water uselessly seeps into the ground or evaporates quickly anyways, and others say that the groundwater is essential to keeping streams and rivers flowing at a solid level. With the passage of such a law, there would theoretically be a sharp increase in collecting water at home when it experiences an inevitable surge in popularity. If everyone in the entire state exercised their right to pull out the barrels, the supply would be diminished.

Some Americans have an irrational fear of Big Government, and meticulously controlling the water supply can exacerbate that fear. What if the state fails to adequately provide for us, or a malicious politician comes to power and shuts down the supply? There are several more realistic reasons one would want to be able to collect their own water. One reason is that it seems environmentally friendly. Rather than letting it go to waste, conscientious citizens collect their own rainwater in order to hydrate crops instead of using the water pump. It has not been proven that this process hurts the overall supply. Another is in case of natural disaster. What happens in an emergency, when the city’s water system is damaged and put out of action for an extended period of time? It this disaster happens during a week or two of no precipitation, it could turn dangerous. Collecting your own water for safety should be a right for all citizens. Overall, the entire country needs to modernize its system of resource management. The people have shown a desire to do what they believes help solve the problem; let them do it unless scientifically proved otherwise.

Categories: Culture: Anthropology

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