Water law

You probably read last week the the King County Superior Court struck down portions of the Washington State legislature’s 2003 water rights law. This was just a local reverberation of a pressing national issue, one that you will be hearing more and more about. There is a shrinking supply of water, as demand increases. The apportionment of water pits various private interests against each other and private interests andaginst public interest. It does not seem fair that we should have so little sun and still experience issues about the availability of water. But in King County homes on wells have had to be abandoned because the well runs dry. In Pierce County the there is a lot of talk about the contamination of wells by salt water.

Surprisingly (to me) this has become a partisan issue. Washington is a politically odd state in a number of different ways. Owing to the population imbalance between east and west, Washington is generally speaking progressive in political orientation. There is a wide cleft though between the sentiments of the citizens and the actions of their legislature. Perhaps because of citizen indifference, the legislature here is driven by special interests so that our laws on the whole are far from progressive.

Nonetheless it is interesting to see how water rights issues are being fought out in other states.  A number of states are attempting to expand the the public trust doctrine to include potable water from any source.  Historically this doctrine has been limited by the courts of navigable waterways, which are deemed to be held in trust for the public, giving a high degree of accountability to public officials who manage them.  Courts generally have been resistant to expanding the doctrine.  Most battles over the extension of this doctrine are now being waged in the various state legislatures.

Water law
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