Water Rights Systems

June 27, 2014 — 4,945 views  

With many states facing severe, dry and hot summers this year, there has been increased conversation about water rights systems and drought response. Many argue that the water right systems are necessary for drought response and water conservation. Some believe current water rights systems may not be the most effective way to combat water flow issues. 

Government officials, engineers and public works managers believe in a more practical, convenient and efficient solutions to water conservation challenges. This article will describe how water rights systems make solutions to water supply, water cost, drought response and water conservation more difficult and even impossible.

State water boards do not have the data they need in order to make appropriate water regulations. States have water resource control boards to investigate waste and unreasonable use. They also balance water deliveries during drought emergencies. Other agencies handle development of current and expected flows. During normal times, the system in place works. However, during severe droughts issues with the transfer of information and outdated technology compromises the ability to enforce water rights systems properly.

Outdated technology
Flow records state officials need to properly measure hydrologic conditions and water supply projections aren’t available due to strict regulations. This is because hydropower utilities needed to properly monitor water flow in real-time are illegal or embargoed. The fact that public officials do not have access to the tools they need in order to give residents and businesses water is unacceptable. 

There is modern technology that is legal and allows state officials to estimate water use by crops without requiring additional reporting by water users. Some states use this technology, which is more cost efficient and accurate, while others are stuck in past methods. The main issue with this technology for some states is that they lack coordination and infrastructure within agencies. 

Short-term forecasts
One of the major contributors to the inefficiency of the water rights systems is the lack of long-term forecasts. Some state systems still use methods and timelines to track water flow since the 1970s. Typical flow records are reported on a monthly-basis and tracking is only done a few months at a time. 

Economic consequences
Because of issues with the current water-rights system, agencies are raising water costs as a solution to the lack of preparation. When a drought occurs, water systems use the extra money in utilities to pay for new investments in water systems. Many argue that drought preparation should be handled before it happens, not during. Putting the price of water on consumers because of the improper lack of data is counterproductive. 

Additionally, when consumers face higher utility costs they stop buying things that pump money into the economy. Another major issue is that utilities don’t necessarily go back to normal after a drought. Water systems tend to keep utility rates high in order to support the lack of preparation. 

The bottom line is that states need to invest more in technology that accurately monitors water flow. Figuring out water flow solutions before issues happen saves time, money and environmental resources.