water war desertHappy anniversary, Arizona v. California.

Even if you never took a course called “Water Law,” you may recognize that court case as one of the most significant in the nation’s history. Or at least in Arizona’s history.

Today is the 50th birthday of a case that settled a battle between states over water rights and allocations that flowed from two major rivers.

You may have missed it, so I commend to you a terrific examination of the court case’s significance, as written by University of Arizona Professor Robert Glennon. He penned the piece for the Arizona Republic, and I particularly enjoyed the shout-out he gave to Arizona Attorney:

“Last year, Arizona Attorney magazine dubbed the case the most important judicial decision in the state’s history.”

UA Law Professor Robert GlennonWell, that we did. And now Republic readers know it too.

And for some confirmation that water battles are not a thing of the past, here is a story from the Yuma Sun from just last week. It describes the challenges we face as water shortages grow more acute (the article was part of a worth-reading series).

Here is Robert Glennon’s opening on Arizona v. California:

“Arizona will celebrate the 50th anniversary on June 3 of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Arizona vs. California, a decades-long feud with California over water from the Colorado and Gila rivers.”

Keep reading here.

Energy and water story ideas wantedWhen you tell Arizona folks you want to talk about water resources, they listen. In fact, they may well want to chime in themselves.

That’s what I discovered recently when I drafted my April 2013 Editor’s Letter for Arizona Attorney Magazine. Like every editor, I am always seeking content that advances the conversation, and we’re always on the prowl for stories that are pertinent and timely.

Based on numerous dialogues I’ve had in the past six months, it occurred to me that a few of the areas we should be covering are water resources and energy generation. So I asked.

Happily, I heard from a good number of people with their ideas. But I’d like to hear from even more. And that’s why I’m including that April column below (you can read it and the complete issue here). If you want to be part of the conversation—either as a published author or as someone we should quote in a story—write to me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

Dept. of Power, Water, More Power

In a desert climate, more effort may be expended on energy issues than in other places. And the horse-trading among powerful interests will only increase in 2013.

Back in 2010, we heard from University of Arizona Law Professor Robert Glennon. The water expert said, “What we do to water is what we did to the buffalo: Harvest it to the brink of extinction.”

Even with H2O, what we value is connected to how much we pay: “Water lubricates the American economy just as much as oil does, but Americans pay less for water than we do for cellphone service or cable television.”

The Navajo Generating Station near Page is at the center of a legal dispute that involves the Salt River Project and the Navajo Nation.

The Navajo Generating Station near Page is at the center of a legal dispute that involves the Salt River Project and the Navajo Nation.

An intriguing panel last month on water in a desert climate addressed that and other issues. It opened with the question, “Do we really have enough water? Really?” (I also wrote about the panel online at http://wp.me/pEOwt-2rX).

The interrelatedness of energy issues was clear as speakers addressed the coal-fired Navajo Generating Station, for which the EPA has advised requires huge and expensive changes. Assuming improvements cost $1 billion (with a b) or more, we may have to reassess water pricing.

Historian Paul Hirt relayed a humorous story demonstrating that water in Arizona is even cheaper than dirt. He got estimates on having a ton of clean topsoil delivered to his house. A ton of clean water (according to WikiAnswers, about 240 gallons) delivered from SRP would cost about 20 times that.

“20 times cheaper,” Hirt marveled, “to get this precious, life-giving resource.”

Heather Macre, a lawyer and Central Arizona Conservation Water Board member, reexamined relations we thought we understood. For instance, she says, “When you turn on a lightbulb, you’re using water. When you turn on your faucet, you’re using electricity.”

Are we trapped in a “relentless cycle of overuse,” as Glennon says? What next steps make sustainable sense, legally or otherwise?

This year, we’d like to cover more energy topics in the magazine. To do that, we need your help.

What issues related to water or other resource should be our focus? What are the legal developments we should follow? And who are the lawyers who should be on our list of sources and authors? Write to us at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.

“Do we have enough water?” panelists were asked? One responded, “Yes, but ….”

What’s your answer?

“Do we really have enough water? Really?

And thus began an intriguing panel last week on the topic of water in a desert climate. Anyone interested in water law—or in drinking, cooking or living in Arizona—should be attuned to the evolving conversation. This one occurred at Monorchid Gallery in downtown Phoenix. (It had been calendared for the Downtown Public Market, but rain—of all things—brought the event indoors.)

L to R: Heather Macre, Marc Campbell and Paul Hirt speak at a water resources panel, Feb. 20, 2013, Monorchid Gallery, Phoenix.

L to R: Heather Macre, Marc Campbell and Paul Hirt speak at a water resources panel, Feb. 20, 2013, Monorchid Gallery, Phoenix.

The panel was sponsored by Women Design Arizona and Blooming Rock Development. It is their second annual lecture series on “sustainable urbanism” in the Phoenix area.

The speakers had a wide variety of experience in water issues:

  • Heather Macre, a lawyer and member of the Central Arizona Conservation Water Board
  • Marc Campbell, a senior water rights analyst at Salt River Project
  • Paul Hirt, a historian at ASU

They covered a lot of ground (and groundwater) in their far-ranging conversation.

Macre mentioned the battles over the Navajo Generating Station, for which the EPA has advised requires huge and expensive changes.

Navajo Generating Station

Navajo Generating Station

Assuming improvements costs $1 billion (with a b) or more, Macre pointed out that we may have to reassess water pricing.

Other panelists took up the pricing topic. Paul Hirt relayed a humorous story demonstrating that water in Arizona is even cheaper than dirt. He got estimates on having a ton of clean topsoil delivered to his house. A ton of clean water (according to WikiAnswers, about 240 gallons) delivered from SRP would cost about 20 times the dirt cost.

“20 times cheaper,” Hirt marveled, “to get this precious, life-giving resource.”

In 1970, Hirt said, Tucson attempted to raise water rates. They began the process in the suburbs, the foothills of the Catalina Mountains, where the higher elevation equaled higher pumping costs.

Unwisely, perhaps, those first efforts at more accurately pricing water occurred in June, among homes of wealthy and well-connected people. The homeowners revolted, and Tucson has never reinstituted higher rates.

The SRP’s Marc Campbell urged attendees to examine all of the choices we make, as individuals and communities.”We need to ponder why we’re sitting in a desert city. We have to pick up the gauntlet, solve the problems.”

For Macre, solutions begin by reexamining relations we thought we understood. For instance, she says she tells people, “When you turn on a lightbulb, you’re using water. When you turn on your faucet, you’re using electricity.” Connections we always imagine to be intrinsically related may be just the opposite.

She echoed the other speakers when she mentioned the down economy as a time of opportunity. The “pause” in the economy may give us the chance to strategize and learn how we want to answer the question “Do we have enough water?”

Her answer? “Yes, but ….”

What’s your answer?

Congratulations to Taz Loomens, Blooming Rock, Tiffany Halperin and Women Design Arizona for an eye-opening conversation.

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