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June 03, 2016


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The connection between groundwater and surface flow is remarkably well accepted in arguments before the US Supreme Court between state governments, such as
Kansas v. Nebraska
Montana v. Wyoming
and currently, Mississippi v. Tennessee
where the Table of Authorities on page I lists more than a dozen others -- a heritage of litigation over water rights stretching back almost to the lifetime of Powell, ironic namesake:

Richard - fascinating, but somewhat depressing, links. The connection may be accepted but the ability to manage it seems limited, as are relevant data. I have sat and browsed through a couple of the Supreme Court rulings (an experience in itself), and find it interesting that the court invariably appoints a "Master" to advise them. I naively assumed that this "Master" might be someone, for example, from the USGS, but no, it's a Circuit Court Judge, whose lengthy legal documentation can also be found on-line. Not much sign of any hydrologists or science anywhere - and nothing on less than a regional scale. The court did however comment that the relationship between groundwater pumping and river depletion "is not 1-to-1, and that river recovery after pumping ceases can take "up to a year."

It strikes me as absurd that these interstate squabbles (for that is what they are) have to go to the Supreme Court at all, and then take up years and substantial amounts of money. The Montana/Wyoming case, recently pronounced on by the court, took 9 years and resulted in a trivial volume of water re-allocation as a penalty.

One of the problems is that these cases are based on water-sharing "compacts" etc. that were generally drawn up in the 1940s and 50s and contain such quaint concepts as "“The term ‘Virgin Water Supply’, as herein used, is defined to be the water supply within the Basin
undepleted by the activities of man."

The issues of trans-boundary water allocation are not, however, simply a means of prolonging the employment of lawyers in the US, but critical on a global, trans-national scale. See the recent report by the UN's Transboundary Water Assessment program: http://twap-rivers.org/

From the summary:

The world’s 286 transboundary river basins span 151 countries, including more than 40% of the Earth’s population and land area. They support the socioeconomic development and wellbeing of humanity and are home to a high proportion of the world’s biodiversity.

These river systems cross borders, and through human dependence on their water, link countries in a complex web of environmental, political, economic and security-related interdependencies. Transboundary water management is challenging since the water-management regime, priorities and cultures usually differ between countries. It therefore requires coordination across different political, legal, institutional and technical settings.

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