My problem with Maude Barlow's presentation is not the concept that water is a common resource. My issue is what would be the legal ramifications regarding allocations to rural areas versus urban areas when water is made a human right. It needs to be said that water allocations will invariably have a disproportional allocation to agricultural use. Disproportional only in the sense that greater quantities and less efficiencies are characteristic of agricultural use. Even after every efficiency measure is applied this will be the case.
California has large scale agricultural use on a scale that is not characteristic of NM. This creates its own political issue as diversions between regions North-South are frequently the source of water conflicts. California has water rights defined in a complex structure that inevitably creates more conflicts than common understandings. The state has been provided with extraordinary power to divert the water resource that has been exercised in numerous large scale aqueducts. The state legislature is the ultimate authority in these diversions and bonds are the source of such funding. One such bond that includes the peripheral canal from the Delta for increased allocations to the Central Valley is currently on the ballot. The Governor is attempting to get this measure off the ballot now. Greens are encouraged to vote NO if this issue makes it to the ballot.
To get back to Maude Barlow, her position of water as a human right is a projected model that appears to be based on models and existing law in underdeveloped nations. One thing I do not understand is her failure to address the fact that US law already classifies water in the state and federal laws as a common resource. The Federal government and the state governments already have authority in interstate streams and rivers. The issue raised in the US against the concept of water as a human right includes the issue of how this would impact on the issue of paramount rights for tribal lands and reserves. That is a distinct issue but such lands are predominately rural with small scale agricultural use. We have seen in NM that when the legal issue of quantification of rights gets put on the table, that pueblos inevitably respond with golf courses as a measure that assures this beneficial use that will be included in the litigation. I would ask how one would distinguish the "human right" through a quantified yardstick. Would this simply be used to expand greenfield development and increase urban use in the same way as the pueblos worked to increase use?
The urban exponential growth in population is not addressed in the issue of water as a human right. It has been addressed through the regional water planning of the Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly (MRGWA) through the water budget and its Public Welfare Statement and recommendations. The shortcoming in the planning process has been the subordination of the structural political reforms needed to plan AND implement the regional plans themselves. Urban use can be argued to be more "efficient", and this was the debate often within Urban Users and Economic Development Advocates of the MRGWA in regards to quality of life vs. growth issues. (see page 17 of Executive Summary ) I see more support for the issue of human rights from those who are not users. The structure of political debates in this scenario inevitably repeat the classic urban-rural conflicts. That being the case I am reluctant to see it as a move forward in equitable allocations.
Grafting "water as a human right" onto the historical, statutory and constitutional structure of water management that will continue to exist does not legally guarantee clean water as is its claim. It will not end groundwater mining as is its claim. It will not provide the infrastructure needed to deliver water to users in remote regions or guarantee supplies for expanded urban areas. In terms of the character of the water issue in California, it should be noted that those reservoirs that Maude Barlow projected would go empty have been filled this year with the increased precipitation. Her characterization of a universal crisis is a projection of her political agenda not of the regional supplies available.
Missing in her discussion is the issue of population as a stressor on the carrying capacity of resource supplies. I, too have a political agenda. As a Green, I want us to structure our political entities based on common regional long-term planning. Maude speaks against urbanization but really promotes urban users. She mentions green spaces but fails to grasp the dynamics of aquifer recharge and presumes green spaces are inherently measures for such recharge that will demonstratively increase supplies. Planning will address that through the inclusion of the science in the process. Regional planning in NM demonstrated that it can address this and even resulted in a quantified flow model for the Middle Rio Grande region through the work of Sandia National Labs. The denial of the water resource in underdeveloped nations is a result of political structures weighted in favor of corporate interests as a key element of development. Bottled water is an issue where commercial interests from outside the region are provided access to regional supplies. It is not simply an issue of rich folks robbing poor folks but is fundamentally a product of "outside" users being given access to regional supplies. The West is filled with ghost towns, where gold mines once flourished. After extracting the resource the towns were abandoned. (think Intel here, where the town of Rio Rancho, NM grew exponentially as a result of the Intel chip plant that pumps an average of 3,000 acre-feet per year)
Maude Barlow's presumption that privatization is the underlying cause of water shortages fails to identify the failure of government to represent users as users and the failure to provide political representation in appropriate models to empower adaptive governance by stakeholders. The political issue is not the lack of entitlement or access for the poor, whether they are urban or rural to a common resource. That is primarily a pricing issue and Greens in Detroit have worked around the issue of water shutoffs to address the inequities that have resulted. In that regard, the argument is already presumed that water is a human need and denial of access, whether by private or municipal authorities, is an attack on the basic need for human survival.
The political issue is the failure to structure those entities responsible for water management in such a way as to be reflective of the region's water use. Maude Barlow fails to extrapolate her own critique of government to include its role in facilitating economic growth and increasing the exploitation of the resource. In our own planning process in the Middle Rio Grande, we saw how urban municipalities repeatedly worked to undermine the concept of balancing growth with renewable supplies. To predict a significant change of behavior by urban users and existing political entities based on codification of the concept of "water as a human right" is unrealistic and fails to present a significant change in the scenarios of the future.