Highest And Best Use – Eye Of The Beholder, Part 1 of Many

What is the highest and best use of water?  That’s a loaded question – ask 10 of your friends and get ready for some long conversations.
pump DSC06523Highest and best use is the doctrine that water should be used for the most valuable purposes.  Most people probably agree that the highest use is human health and safety – drinking water and fighting house or apartment fires being at the top of the list.

stream IMG_8137What comes next?  The answer depends on where you are, many court cases, what your business is, and right at the root of all human valuations, your world view.  Is your view of the world that humans and businesses come first, or that animals and environmental uses are most important?  This aspect of who we are, our world plum branch IMG_5832_view, is the foundation of our beliefs and our filter for all information.  World view discussions already have 10 million or more blogs so we won’t discuss that here.

Regarding water, what else determines the ranking of best and highest uses?  If you live in North Carolina, then rainfall is relatively abundant.  Sure, water needs to be moved to where it is needed, but handling floods might be more of a concern than enough rainfall.  If you live in a part of the world where surface water is scarce, like California, then every water use competes with others in dry years.

This is a short pgrain field _DSC2817ost and it will be fleshed out in the coming months.  For now, everybody have a great week.


Reasonable And Beneficial Use Depends On Who You Are

As far as water rights go, what is “reasonable and beneficial use”? The California Constitution, Article 10, Section 2, says, in part: “…The right to water or to the use or flow of water in or from any natural stream or water course in this State is and shall be limited to such water as shall be reasonably required for the beneficial use to be served, and such right does not and shall not extend to the waste or unreasonable use or unreasonable method of use or unreasonable method of diversion of water….”

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? Use of water has to make sense and we can’t waste it. The question you are probably asking right now is, who defines the good and bad use of water?

In 1849, The Gold Rush! Starting in the year 1849, prior to California becoming a State in 1850, it was reasonable and beneficial to move a lot of gravel, sometimes whole streams, and sometimes considerable portions of mountains to get gold.

Along with ounces, pounds, and tons of gold found, came a whole lot people than there were before. As the proportion of gold miners to State population decreased, the weight of public opinion changed. Wasn’t it a shame to fill up good rivers with so much gravel that a steamboat could not get through? And weren’t the gnawed-out mountains ugly? Use of monitors was the first, biggest use of water declared to be unreasonable.Irrigation_small

Over time, the mines played out and water went more and more to ranches and farms. This is definitely reasonable and beneficial. California became the bread basket and salad bowl of the nation. With more people, land was developed faster, and more water was used.

And you know what happened next. Fish populations in streams decreased, and more focus was put on non-farm uses of water. As dams went in, the miles of natural streams decreased. The fight over water went from who gets the first the mostest, to also arguing how much should be left in creeks and rivers.

In these photos, one shows the whole flow of a creek being diverted to irrigated pastures. In 1940, that was the best use of that water in this part of the State, except if it cut into someone else’s diversion right. Today, a lot of people think the natural stream iHat Creek_smalls best, with no use by people.

So “reasonable and beneficial” depends on when and where you were, and how scarce the water is. Scarcity includes what’s left over after everyone else has rights.

“Good” use of water changes as society changes. In 1900, 90% of people in the USA lived on farms, and 10% in cities. In 2000, 10% lived on farms, and 90% in cities. California was more like 7% vs.93% – it is no surprise that this wholesale change in who we are also changed what is “reasonable and beneficial.” More on this later….