There is growing uncertainty over the impacts of greenhouse gases discharged into the Earth's atmosphere resulting in more and more recognition that there may be a less catastrophic climate change forecast than originally predicted by climate change "experts." While much remains unsettled as to the whys and hows of climate change, one often associated concern, water scarcity, appears to be on the rise in the U.S. and around the world.
Another water rights legal battle was headlined in this weekend's Wall Street Journal (WSJ Saturday/Sunday, April 20-21, 2013) with an article addressing water scarcity and drought impacts in and around Klamath Falls, OR. Critical water conflicts have existed here in recent times since 2001 when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation shut off irrigation to thousands of acres of farmland in Oregon and California to protect endangered fish during a drought. A 2008 landmark water pact, awaiting approval from Congress, appeared to resolve water disputes for most interested parties.
With new drought conditions now existing in this region, conflicts again are surfacing between ranchers and farmers as well as environmentalists. The 2008 pact purported to divvy up available water resources among all parties and also required PacifiCorp to remove four dams on the Klamath River by 2020. Several parties have withdrawn their support from the 2008 pact alleging it may actually reduce further water into the basin and establishes preferences for farmers' rights over ranchers' rights.
A court recently ruled that the Klamath Tribes of the Klamath, Modoc and Yahooskin people have "time immemorial" water rights in much of Klamath County. The ruling secures priority water rights for tribal members.
While Oregon, California and DOI are still pushing for approval of the 2008 water pact, the only interested party that appears satisfied with the pact is the Klamath Tribes. This is another in a growing list of water disputes ongoing throughout the U.S. where courts, and in some cases, Congress, are being asked to weigh in on how water rights will be managed for all concerned. Given that many of these conflicts arise between states, the U.S. Supreme Court has original jurisdication to hear some of these cases and several already are before the court as discussed in this blog earlier.
While it may not be clear that changing weather patterns and related water scarcity issues are a direct result of climate change, what we do know is that water conflicts appear to be on the rise with parties struggling to protect limited water resources.