In 2010, Mike Adams of Natural News reported that many western states (including Utah, Washington and Colorado) have outlawed individuals from collecting rainwater on their own properties because, according to officials, “that rain belongs to someone else.” Recent droughts—some to do with climate change and others with mismanagement of water—have renewed an interest in water conservation methods and heightened conflicts over rainwater collection and water diversion generally. Adams goes on to say that laws restricting property owners from “diverting” water that falls on their homes and land have been on the books for years and the number of states enacting restrictions is rising.
The argument presumes that collecting water on one’s property prevents the water from participating in the water cycle and benefiting the overall watershed. However, a 2007 study by the Colorado Water Conservation Board on how rainwater collection affects aquifer and groundwater supplies revealed that letting people collect rainwater on their properties actually reduces demand from water facilities and improves conservation. Two years later Colorado put in a new law that exempts certain small-scale rainwater collection systems, like the kind people might install on their homes, from collection restrictions.
Not so for Utah. Adams described how Mark Miller, owner of a car dealership in Utah—the second driest state in the United States—was charged with unlawful diversion of rainwater after he constructed a large rainwater collection system at his new dealership to use for washing new cars. According to Adams, Salt Lake City officials then worked out a compromise with Miller to permit him to use “their rainwater.”
And therein lies the rub: it raises the question of human individual rights vs. societal proxi rights—in conjunction with or in opposition to earth rights. Where do your rights begin and where do they end? What right supersedes another? Whose right supersedes another? In a land that prides itself on individual rights within a free capitalist democracy, this bold move by state governments in the USA carries a desperate message of control. The kind of despotic control that not only incites fear-mongering but permits a few people to dictate the nature and amount of access by the many to a life-giving element. To life itself: water.
A dramatic and terrifying example of such control was enacted by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in May of 2015 on thousands of poor marginalized residents who had failed to make their water payments. Detroit shut off their water on short notice; meantime, its high-end golf club and other commercial and industrial users who were also owing received no shut down. The United Nations and several advocacy organizations such as Food & Water Watch called it a human rights crisis.
Issues over harvesting and diverting water over geographical, jurisdictional and political boundaries will certainly become—indeed in some places already are—international issues in the years to come. Fog and dew harvesting is currently active in Oman, South Africa, Chile, Yemen and other countries. Cloud seeding and weather modification is a major undertaking in China, where over 55 billion tons of artificial rain per year are created through artificial means—with potential consequences (e.g., preventing it from falling elsewhere). Should water collection that obviously crosses geographic and political borders be regulated? If so, how? And by who?
Nina Munteanu’s Water Is… (Pixl Press) for sale worldwide May 10, 2016
Nina Munteanu is an ecologist, limnologist and internationally published author of award-nominated speculative novels, short stories and non-fiction. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books.