Downstream Neighbor 2012 Symposium: Keynote speaker Maude Barlow remains optimistic for her cause and diametrically opposed to water markets


Update: here’s the link to the audio for Ms. Barlow’s presentation.

Maude Barlow managed to end a dreary tour through the world’s water supply problems on an optimistic note. She hammered home the point that real science, statistics and information interchange, will carry the cause in the day.

Water for basic needs and sanitation is a human right in her view. She laments the lack of respect for nature in our economy. She advocates for changes that will lead to a sustainable future for all.

I came to know Maude Barlow a bit after reading Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water her 2005 book about the disasters of privatization in the global south. She’s since released Blue Covenant: The Global Water Crisis and the Coming Battle for the Right to Water.

Ms. Barlow has been active lately, standing with the protestors that surrounded the White House, to help end the nonsense of the Keystone Pipeline.

At a Keystone protest in Canada she got cuffed by a reluctant mountie. Apparently he was apprehensive about facing his wife, a Barlow fan, when he got home.

Barlow advocates against water markets and can cite instance after instance where they have failed. This includes driving the poor in some areas to rely on surface water infused with waterborne disease.

Of Colorado, she maintains that we will inexorably move to a water commons model — she cited riparian law in Vermont as an example. She understands that western water law is mostly founded on the doctrine of prior appropriation. She doesn’t favor someone being able to divert, “…just because they got there first.”

On the subject of privatization I line up pretty well with Barlow. No surprise since I’ve read her work and she can make a point.

I do want to remind readers however that the water market in Colorado operates pretty well.

Prior appropriation is a good mechanism for allocating water in times of scarcity.

Colorado Water law prevents speculation in water rights acquisition. Recently the Pagosa Springs Water and Sanitation District lost big in water court over their planned Dry Creek Reservoir. In essence one of the judge’s findings said that they were trying to appropriate more water than projected customer growth would warrant.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District recently filed comments to a proposed permit for private water developer Aaron Million’s Flaming Gorge Pipeline. The project is speculative in nature they say.

The environment has a seat at the table in the Colorado water market. The Colorado Water Conservation Board is allowed by state statute to hold instream flow rights. Working with the non-profit Colorado Water Trust they’ve secured flows in critical reaches across Colorado.

Tax policy contains provisions for conservation easements designed to keep appropriated water with the land traditionally irrigated.

Finally, there is little enthusiasm amongst water providers to switch their operations to a for-profit model. Most ditch and reservoir companies also operate as non-profits.

The Downstream Neighbor Symposium is part of the Colorado Water 2012 celebration being spearheaded by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education.

The keynote event was a hoot. Things kicked off with a Denver/Boulder folk singer. During one song she invited us to sing along. A big crowd is my perfect place to sing. No one can hear me.

A graphic artist was on hand to capture the keynote address in words and picture while Ms. Barlow was speaking. The artist did an impressive job. I want to hire her for any meeting I facilitate from now on.

More Colorado Water 2012 coverage here.

4 thoughts on “Downstream Neighbor 2012 Symposium: Keynote speaker Maude Barlow remains optimistic for her cause and diametrically opposed to water markets

  1. So how close are we to seeing a situation where Colorado water is a traded commodity? Is this a real danger? I know this is a political football that’s been kicked back and forth in recent years during electioneering.

    • Water Bearer,

      Well, the right to divert is traded in Colorado. These rights depend on historical use and must go through water court to be quantified and be granted a change of beneficial use.

      There are also numerous leases executed each year. Under Colorado water law you can buy water from a rights holder, store it someplace, find a customer and deliver it as long as that use is specified in your decree. This is what Greeley does in effect for the oil and gas industry.

      I believe that water is priced so low that large scale operations would not be economic. Water is expensive to move around. For example, Colorado Springs Southern Delivery System (a 50+ mile pipeline) will end up costing around $800 million and they’ve raised rates to the point where their customers might rebel soon.

      In addition, some large rights holders are limited to their service area by decree and cannot sell water outside of it (i.e.Denver and Thornton). Also the really big rights holders generally operate for municipal supply or agricultural irrigation as non-profits. Their rights can’t be usurped by a for-profit entity, they would have to be sold and there is little incentive for an entity to sell since there is no unappropriated water left for replacement.

      It’s an interesting issue and with all the shenanigans around the world it is wise to care enough to keep an eye on it.

      Thanks for commenting.

      John Orr

      • Water is priced so low, for now… Natural gas was uneconomic for decades, but energy prices have made it profitable to build multi-billion dollar pipelines across Asia.

        Thanks for replying. Your site is a rare drop of intelligence in the bucket of mediocrity on these issues.

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