Managing Water and Climate Change in Europe and North America
Edited by Inger Weibust and James Meadowcroft
Chapter 5: Playing a zero sum game: sharing water between jurisdictions in federations
Climate change has been raising concerns about water shortages and interstate water wars, even though the most recent case of armed conflict over water occurred 4500 years ago. More recently, in 1934, armed troops massed along a border in a water supply conflict. The border in question was not an international boundary but the one between Arizona and California. Arizona's governor called out the National Guard to prevent California's construction of the Parker dam, which was expected to reduce Arizona's share of the Colorado River (Gleick 2000). The United States (US) Supreme Court eventually settled the dispute (Gleick 2009a). Although armed conflict over water is very rare, other forms of conflict are commonplace when river waters are allocated between jurisdictions directly upstream/ downstream of one another. The game theory term for this zero sum situation is 'pure conflict,' because there is no win/win solution. A unit of water consumed by one jurisdiction cannot also be consumed by another. Furthermore, river flow allocation can illustrate additional meanings of 'conflict': contention and rivalry. A legal scholar of US interstate water disputes compares these to kickboxing: not lethal but fairly vicious nonetheless (Ruhl 2003, 57). Another legal scholar contends that interstate water conflicts are never 'resolved with finality. Such conflicts have a great deal in common with volcanoes: sometimes they are active, sometimes they are dormant but they are always volcanoes.
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