Editor’s Log: Feast Or Famine

Summer in North America brings heat. But this year, it has brought record heat. When Fairbanks, AK, hits the 90s and we get pictures of shore side sunbathers in bikinis – from Anchorage, AK, nonetheless – you know it is hot! Death Valley, CA, hit 130 degrees on June 30 – hot even by that location’s standards.

Unfortunately, continued periods of high heat are forecast for the rest of the summer. That will serve to only exasperate the parched conditions being experienced in much of the western U.S. Major wildfires in Colorado, Arizona and California have already claimed thousands of acres and most recently, the lives of 19 firefighters in Arizona. Fire hazards remain extreme.

Yet, other parts of the U.S. are at the opposite end of the weather spectrum, battling massive storms bringing such deluges that flooding has become common place. Further, hurricane season is building and the East and Gulf Coasts are very nervous.

In the U.S., we continue to wrestle with how to handle our water issues. To be sure, weather issues can – and do – dramatically impact our water supply. But when you combine climatic issues with steady growth of our populous, ‘blue crude’ by necessity has become an elusive and much sought-after resource.

Cities are desperately trying to secure new water supplies to accommodate both growth and mounting regulatory issues. For example, even along the Gulf Coast which typically gets 50 to 60 inches of rain per year, subsidence issues due to over-pumping of ground water has forced municipalities to seek surface water reservoirs. In Texas, an extensive, mandated conversion to surface water has been under way for some time. Securing water rights and supplies from various water districts around the state has become big business. Major financial resources have been invested into creating new reservoirs and constructing huge water transmission pipelines. Other states are doing the same.

Oklahoma is another southwest state with diverse climate – and water – patterns. Typically eastern Oklahoma has too much water while western Oklahoma is parched. Various plans have been kicked around for years as to how to best capture the overage and transport it to western Oklahoma. To date, there has not been a financially feasible plan developed, but work continues along with drought conditions in large parts of the state.

Interestingly, it is the water resources of Oklahoma that has attracted attention from northern Texas. Specifically, Tarrant County, TX (Fort Worth/Arlington area) has been focused on the water resources of southeastern Oklahoma along the historic border between the two states, the Red River.

In short, Tarrant County wanted to construct a major water pipeline to transport water from a Red River tributary, thus securing ample water supply to accommodate the continued prosperous growth of the region. While certain entities expressed a willingness to sell water to Tarrant County, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board not surprisingly blocked that action, citing the need to divert water back to Oklahoma when needed. Or course, Tarrant County needed a secure, steady water supply.

A lawsuit resulted that eventually landed in the U.S. Supreme Court. In June, the high court unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that the various tenants of the Red River Compact (an agreement between Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana allocating water rights with the Red River basin) were not violated or in need of modification. In essence, Oklahoma gets to keep its water within the parameters of the Red River Compact.

It’s a blow to long-term water supply plans for Tarrant County. They’ll turn elsewhere, to be sure, but such procurement or development of major water supplies is very difficult and elusive in today’s world of ever-tightening water supply. This historic court case, combined with other recent rulings and related litigation still being tried, are slowly building a better picture of how our country will be divvying up water resources over the next 50 to 100 years.

This multitude of lawsuits regarding water rights points to the actual (near-term) and perceived (long-term) value, significance and benefits of procuring an ample water supply. Municipalities and water districts – at least those with foresight – are scrambling to secure their areas economic futures.

Water is truly the elixir of life to sustain hopes of long-term prosperity by any community, large or small.

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