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VIEW: Regional water planning needed for the right to water, says Zehr

San Francisco-based writer Martin Zehr asks, “How do water boards quantify water supply subject to the entitlement of water as a human right for regional and state water budgets? What are the mechanisms for dispute resolution? How can state water administrators incorporate water as a human right in their decisions regarding appropriations, allocations and diversions? …How will water as a human right resolve the urban vs. rural conflict for water absent regional planning? How will state resolutions on water as a human right impact on municipal water right entitlements and how it will impact agricultural users? …What are the legal ramifications of a state resolution on water as a human right impact indigenous water claims? …What is required within the text of a state resolution that addresses environmental justice and what are the mechanisms that need to be addressed for dispute resolution?”

1. Open and inclusive water planning
Zehr writes, “In the Middle Rio Grande region of New Mexico water planning took on a significant character that was open and inclusive.” In the article he describes the participatory process taken by the Middle Rio Grande Water Assembly in the development of a 50-year water plan for the area.

2. Public welfare statement
“Water as a human right will inherently be raised in the concrete structural and political context of existing laws and institutions. There will be conflicts between users: business and residential, agricultural and urban, historical and recreational. In order to anticipate these conflicts, structural mechanisms and administrative and legal guidelines need to be in place. One such mechanism is a Public Welfare Statement that defines a region´s priorities for water allocations. This establishes the parameters for a regional water budget that presents the percentage of the various water uses.”

3. Public trust
“Water rights of property owners have legally defined priorities for allocation in much of the West under the doctrine of ‘first in time, first in line’. At the same time, the Public Trust Doctrine in the state of California empowers the State Legislature and the Governor to act presumptively regardless of the interests of local users. This contradiction constantly provokes divisions among users in large-scale water diversion decisions, dam constructions, reservoirs and other large scale projects.”

4. Structural changes
“The structural reforms and political entities needed to address equity and fairness in allocations and quality issues in urban and rural regions surpass the bounds of those that have been historically relied upon. …Without defining and refining the structural changes needed to implement water as a human right, there is a distinct possibility that it will simply be rolled into the concept of Public Welfare or Public Trust Doctrine without enlarging the concept of water as a common resource.”

5. Regional water planning
“Regional water planning underlies the foundation of enforcing water as a human right. It accentuates the ability to review the science and the policy of local governance. Regional planning provides the structure for the development of fair and equitable appropriation and has the capacity to develop and expand input from all sectors of society.”

Zehr notes, “This directly impacts on state legislation in California and elsewhere addressing the issue of water as a human right. Many such resolutions are nonbinding and/or generally worded in a way that does not define their intent or establish and empower entities that are to implement the resolution. Without defined authority and funding, the plans are at the mercy of corporate and private interests that so profoundly influence the existing governmental entities and are subject to the intrusions of administrative staff. …Without the regional planning process and the incorporation of the principles and institutions of adaptive governance, there will be no room made by powerful interests for the inclusion of human rights as an active component of water administration.”

His full commentary is at http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/224170.