Water Rights and Water Wrongs

A very interesting article about water at ProPublica.org
. Essentially, the pieces asks whether Wall Street–the good guys on Wall Street, of course–will help us achieve this:


[Hedge Fund manager] Disque Deane . . . supports the idea of setting aside what policy makers call “lifeline supplies” to guarantee households some minimal amount of water. But he says if markets jack up prices on higher levels of consumption, that may not be a bad thing. Anyone who wants to fill a swimming pool, water a golf course, or use billions of gallons of Colorado River water to grow cotton in the Sonoran Desert, he says, should have to pay for that privilege.

without our farmers and ranchers and small town America ending up like this:

Eventually, though, Crowley County passed a point of no return. With so much water gone [because farmers had sold their rights for the high prices offered], the empty irrigation ditches didn’t work; one lonely farmer at the end of the run would see all his water soaked up by the soil long before it ever reached his farm. And with fewer and fewer farmers around to share the expense of maintaining the ditch systems, the cost kept rising. Farmers had little choice but to sell, and all but 11 in the county did. The place literally dried up.

Kneeling in his driveway changing a truck tire last summer, Tomky’s son-in-law Matt Heimerich recalled what the town had lost. Though tens of millions of dollars in water rights were sold, few of the proceeds were reinvested in the community, he said. One by one, families moved away. The tomato and sugar factories shut down, and without goods to ship, the railroad stopped sending trains through town. Ordway’s car dealerships closed, and the tractor store went bankrupt. As though someone had pulled a bottom block out from a Jenga tower, Crowley County fell into an inexorable collapse.

“I couldn’t have eaten enough Prozac,” Heimerich said.

We don’t take water as seriously as we should. I think that’s self-evident. And pricing water differently and more sanely is, in theory, a good idea, so that we begin allocating it better than we do. But. There is always a but. And right now, I don’t know what comes after the but.


I know I don’t want farmers, ranchers, and small town America to disappear. Oh, and water rights are assets, assets that, as this story makes clear, are becoming more and more valuable as I write this. Assets that warrant good estate planning to preserve them for future generations. So there’s that.

On a related note, if you’re interested in water and water issues, may I recommend the always interesting podcast, Water Values hosted by attorney Dave McGimpsey? I discovered about a year and a half ago and listened to it regularly as I ran. As I ramped up my estate and business planning practice, I stopped listening, intending to return after I had things moving along in estate planning. I’m thinking it’s time to begin listening again, especially since farmers and ranchers make up such an important part of the two, dry, Western states that I serve.

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