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In Search of Sustainable Water Management

International Lessons for the American West and Beyond

Edited by Douglas S. Kenney

Water issues in the American West share many similarities with those seen elsewhere in the world as population growth exacerbates longstanding problems of inappropriate water use and management. The contributors to this timely volume examine the universal challenge of sustainable water management to improve the use of water resources already developed and find ways to moderate our growing collective thirst.
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Chapter 3: Integrating Environmental and Other Public Values in Water Allocation and Management Decisions

David H. Getches and Sarah B. Van de Wetering


David H. Getches and Sarah B. Van de Wetering With assistance from David Farrier, University of Wollongong; Robyn Tanya Stein, Bowman Gilfillan Inc.; and Wang Xi and colleagues, Wuhan University 1. REVIEW OF ISSUES IN THE AMERICAN WEST The Problem: Protecting Public Values in Systems of Private Rights In the American West, as in most societies of the world, water is a public resource. Private users of water must obey rules designed to protect and enhance broad public values. The rules are rarely rigorous and what is included within the definition of ‘public values’ varies. Most people understand public values to include the important services that water provides that are difficult to quantify in monetary terms. A few examples illustrate the diverse services provided by water in the arid and semi-arid American West: preservation of biological diversity in healthy, functioning aquatic ecosystems; opportunities for aesthetic appreciation and spiritual renewal; recreational activities such as fishing, boating, swimming, bird watching, hiking, and scenic driving; cultural identity and historical activities related to streams and lakes; and concerns for future economic opportunities dependent on reliable water supplies. Some of these services support commercially valuable activities and industries; others lack tangible monetary value but promote the well-being of society. Since the first non-Native people came to the United States, the task of water law has been to allocate water to individuals and enterprises for utilitarian purposes and thus further a broad public interest in economic expansion. Until it was so allocated, water...

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