by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel
It’s not every day that a photo of the Grand Valley Canal makes the New York Times. Many Grand Junction residents may have missed this momentous occasion, right after New Year’s. But there it was, right in the middle of a multi-page article, about Arizona water and the involvement of private investors from New York. The picture was incorrectly labeled as the “Grand Valley Ditch,” though the difference between a ditch and a canal may be lost on editors surrounded by the Hudson and East Rivers, Long Island Sound, and the Atlantic Ocean.
The more disturbing error is in the article’s overall thesis. It’s one of those long, drawn-out “human interest” pieces, with personal stories gleaned from the reporter’s travels, the self-indulgent kind designed to win writing prizes rather than enlighten readers. Headlined, “Wall Street Eyes Billions in the Colorado’s Water,” it suggests that private investors’ interest in the Colorado River “could redefine century-old rules for who controls one of the most valuable economic resources in the United States.” Interesting speculation, but only legislatures — not private investors — can rewrite water laws. “Control” of the Colorado River and other western water is not determined by “century-old rules,” but by law. That includes the constitutions of seven states, statute books defining the enforcement process, and interstate compacts ratified by the U.S. Congress. Sorry, but Wall Street arrogance notwithstanding, some things cannot be bought and sold on the stock exchange. The Colorado River is one of them.
Almost annually, I’ve been prompted to write about water marketing, because of perennial tales of private investors planning to get rich buying water from rural areas and selling it to thirsty cities. This particular article begins with a reporter’s observation that “There is a myth about water in the Western United States, which is that there is not enough of it.” He posits that “There is plenty. It is just in the wrong places” — a breathtakingly ignorant assertion which he claims is the view of “those who deal closely with water.” I don’t know a single water leader in the West who holds that view…