Natural Resources

Fall 2011 Natural Resources Law Class at UB

LAKE MEAD GOING DRY September 16, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — colinfitzlaw @ 8:44 pm

Here’s an interesting video about the current crisis with Lake Mead and Colorado River.


Global Water Shortage Looms In New Century September 14, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — colinfitzlaw @ 4:30 pm

When most U.S. citizens think about water
shortages — if they think about them at all — they think about a local problem,
possibly in their town or city, maybe their state or region. We don’t usually
regard such problems as particularly worrisome, sharing confidence that the
situation will be readily handled by investment in infrastructure, conservation,
or other management strategies. Whatever water feuds arise, e.g., between
Arizona and California, we expect to be resolved through negotiations or in the

But shift from a local to a global water perspective, and the terms
dramatically change. The World Bank reports that 80 countries now have water
shortages that threaten health and economies while 40 percent of the world —
more than 2 billion people — have no access to clean water or sanitation. In
this context, we cannot expect water conflicts to always be amenably resolved.

Consider: More than a dozen nations receive most of their water from rivers
that cross borders of neighboring countries viewed as hostile. These include
Botswana, Bulgaria, Cambodia, the Congo, Gambia, the Sudan, and Syria, all of
whom receive 75 percent or more of their fresh water from the river flow of
often hostile upstream neighbors.

In the Middle East, a region marked by hostility between nations, obtaining
adequate water supplies is a high political priority. For example, water has
been a contentious issue in recent negotiations between Israel and Syria. In
recent years, Iraq, Syria and Turkey have exchanged verbal threats over their
use of shared rivers. (It should come as no surprise to learn that the words
“river” and “rival” share the same Latin root; a rival is “someone who shares
the same stream.”)

More frequently water is being likened to another resource that quickened
global tensions when its supplies were threatened. A story in The Financial
Times of London began: “Water, like energy in the late 1970s, will probably
become the most critical natural resource issue facing most parts of the world
by the start of the next century.” This analogy is also reflected in the
oft-repeated observation that water will likely replace oil as a future cause of
war between nations.

Global water problems are attracting increasing attention, not just at the
international level, but also within the United States, in its popular press, in
natural resource journals and as the subject of books. Former Sen. Paul Simon
from Illinois recently authored Tapped Out: The Coming World Crisis in Water and
What We Can Do About it. A book for the general, non-specialized audience,
Simon’s publication sounds an alarm about the approaching crisis. “Within a few
years, a water crisis of catastrophic proportions will explode upon us — unless
aroused citizens … demand of their leadership actions reflecting vision,
understanding and courage.”

A prime cause of the global water concern is the ever-increasing world
population. As populations grow, industrial, agricultural and individual water
demands escalate. According to the World Bank, world-wide demand for water is
doubling every 21 years, more in some regions. Water supply cannot remotely keep
pace with demand, as populations soar and cities explode.

Population growth alone does not account for increased water demand. Since
1900, there has been a six-fold increase in water use for only a two-fold
increase in population size. This reflects greater water usage associated with
rising standards of living (e.g., diets containing less grain and more meat). It
also reflects potentially unsustainable levels of irrigated agriculture. (See
sidebar.) World population has recently reached six billion and United Nation’s
projections indicate nine billion by 2050. What water supplies will be available
for this expanding population?

Meanwhile many countries suffer accelerating desertification. Water quality
is deteriorating in many areas of the developing world as population increases
and salinity caused by industrial farming and over-extraction rises. About 95
percent of the world’s cities still dump raw sewage into their waters.

Climate change represents a wild card in this developing scenario. If, in
fact, climate change is occurring — and most experts now concur that it is —
what effect will it have on water resources? Some experts claim climate change
has the potential to worsen an already gloomy situation. With higher
temperatures and more rapid melting of winter snowpacks, less water supplies
will be available to farms and cities during summer months when demand is

A technological solution that some believe would provide ample supplies of
additional water resources is desalination. Some researchers fault the United
States for not providing more support for desalination research. Once the world
leader in such research, this country has abdicated its role, to Saudi Arabia,
Israel and Japan. There are approximately 11,000 desalination plants in 120
nations in the world, 60 percent of them in the Middle East.

Others argue that a market approach to water management would help resolve
the situation by putting matters on a businesslike footing. They say such an
approach would help mitigate the political and security tensions that exacerbate
international affairs. For example, the Harvard Middle East Water Project wants
to assign a value to water, rather than treat rivers and streams as some kind of
free natural commodity, like air.

Other strategies to confront the growing global water problem include slowing
population growth, reducing pollution, better management of present supply and
demand and, of course, not to be overlooked, water conservation. As Sandra
Postel writes in her book, Last Oasis, “Doing more with less is the first and
easiest step along the path toward water security.”

Ultimately, however, an awareness of the global water crisis should serve to
put our own water concerns in perspective. Whether our current activity is
evaluating Arizona’s Ground Water Management Act or, at a more personal level,
deciding whether to plant water-conserving vegetation, the wiser choice would
likely be made, if guided by an awareness that water is a very scarce and
valuable natural resource.