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The West 2000 Page 15
Clubs intentions. It worked even beyond Sierra Club expectations
and hopes, in a rapid few years shutting down virtually all logging
on public land. This even though the owls supposed reliance on
old growth timber was put into serious question by hundreds of
nests found in second growth forests and one even discovered in
a K-Mart sign.
THERE WILL NEVER BE MORE,
|In the West, water law follows a doctrine of prior appropriation,
allowing the first water user to take what is needed for beneficial
use. In a drought, senior rights are met first, the basic rule
being, use it or lose it.
Agricultural users in the West have generally been losing it in the last 20 years due to new claims by federal authorities over what is beneficial use and prior rights. In large part, this is because federal doctrine that once left the matter of prior appropriation to the states and to notion of allowing the West to bloom from irrigation, has been reinvented in the last decade with more and more claims of federal rights.
Those priorities have changed since federal reclamation policy at the beginning of the 20th century encouraged families to settle in an arid West made to bloom from the creation of dams, reservoirs and irrigation systems.
Today, some 31 million people in the West rely in one way or another on the more than 300 dams and reservoirs built by the Bureau of Reclamation to provide water to more than nine million acres of farmland since 1902.
Despite promises made to those original settlers, however, increasing demand for water from growing urban areas and newly established wildlife habitats has resulted in major alterations in the policy and mission of federal agencies such as the Bureau of Reclamation. And although federal authority stems from the Reclamation Act of 1902, since then assumed and actual federal authority over water resources has been fragmented into multiple agencies.
No less than 12 standing committees in Congress have jurisdiction over federal water, yet no comprehensive plan on federal water resources has been introduced since the 1965 Water Resources Planning Act generally providing for an assessment of the resource.
Since then, although states are acknowledged to generally have control over their own water resources, multiple federal agencies including the BLM, the Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Environmental Protection Agency have claimed prior rights for the allocation of western water.
The complex issue of water rights is expected to be argued in one or more cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in this decade. In the meantime, however, losses of farmland due to elimination of irrigation or grazing rights by federal authorities amount to millions of acres and continue to be central to the issue in the West.
|More so than we would like, Range is accused of preaching to the choir by reminding those in the rural West of what they already know. But neither we nor those readers closest to us want to be regarded as missionaries or adversaries in causes that need not divide the nation or the people of the West as much as they have in recent years. John|