In 2008, Wired Magazine named Peter Glieck “one of 15 people the next President should listen to." He wrote a great article on water rights.
Here are the first few paragraphs.
Who “owns” what water? Or, if water belongs to the public, who has the right to use it?
This question is perhaps the thorniest question in the world of water. The answer is critical to California’s growing water crisis. It is critical to water in the western U.S. It is critical to the spat between Alabama, Georgia and Florida over the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river system (say that three times fast). It is critical to Egypt and the nine other nations that share the Nile. It is critical to the Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese and Syrians who share the tiny Jordan River. It is critical to disputes among users of water around the world.
And feelings run high. Just last week, Governor Sonny Purdue of Georgia said that Georgia has a right to all the water that originates in the state and that falls in the state and will fight to keep it. “The state of Georgia is due the use of that water, and we will make use of that water,” the governor said. He was responding to a recent major court ruling that said that Georgia is using more water than it should under current law and agreements, depriving Florida and Alabama of its equitable share. I wrote about this in my July 17 post.
This is an old idea — the water falls here or runs through here, so why can’t I use all of it? At the grandest scale, this idea is called “The Harmon Doctrine,” which says that upstream water users have the right to do whatever they want with the water in their own “territory” no matter what harm it causes to downstream users. It was named after a U.S. Attorney General in the 1890s who said that Mexico had no right to any water that originates in the U.S., even if the river flows into Mexico. The only problem for Governor Purdue, and Georgia, is that the Harmon Doctrine has been universally repudiated: in international law, in U.S. law, and in any ethical or moral set of rules.