UA Law Professor Robert Glennon

UA Law Professor Robert Glennon

We have done stories in Arizona Attorney Magazine on water resources, but they involve concepts that are difficult to wrangle. For instance, we have to ask if, at its base, it’s a story about:

  • Environmental resources
  • Agriculture
  • Regulatory and administrative law
  • International trade
  • Sustainability
  • Domestic security
  • The Corporation Commission, the Legislature, the courts

Unfortunately for us, the answer is usually “Yes.” And that’s because water—especially in the arid west—can involve all of those things.

That’s why I was struck when I heard an NPR story this week on a unique take on water use: The claim that using scarce water to grow crops to ship overseas may be inappropriate.

The question is raised by Robert Glennon, a University of Arizona Regents Professor (whom I’ve covered here and here).

To illustrate the stream of water (if you will), NPR’s Fronteras Desk created the following image:

Water use and exports. (Image: NPR Fronteras Desk).

Water use and exports. (Image: NPR Fronteras Desk).

Before anyone gets fired up about capitalism or some such, Glennon is not recommending a prohibition on crop sales overseas. But he does ask: When water is scarce, should  water-hungry cities get the opportunity to purchase agricultural water, rather than see it be used on water-hungry crops that are then packed on container ships and ultimately offloaded in China to feed cows?

Here is the story, including the audio clip.

What do you think? Do thirsty Chinese cows get your goat? Should the dialogue about scarce resources include a broader conversation that may transfer some uses from agricultural to residential and commercial?

Who knows? Your insight could be the seed for a magazine article.

So: Water --> alfalfa --> Chinese cows.

So: Water –> alfalfa –> Chinese cows.