The Fight for Water Rights
During the next three years, Illinois is expected to define a comprehensive program for state and regional water supply planning, including development of standards for regional plans and guidance for regional planning processes, Henriksen says.
Practices of the provinces
To the north of us, in Canada, water availability and sustainability also has rigorous planning and legal ties associated with it. When an aggregate license (for private land) or aggregate permit (Crown land) is applied for, myriad technical reports must be prepared to accompany the application.
A Hydrogeological Level 1 report must be completed. This report serves as a preliminary evaluation to examine extraction, the established groundwater table, and the potential for adverse affects of groundwater, surface water resources, and their uses. A Hydrogeological Level 2 report must be prepared if the results of the Level 1 report show the potential for adverse effects. An impact assessment is then required to determine the significance of the effect and the feasibility of mitigation.
The technical report must include several items including the following: water wells; spring; groundwater aquifers; surface water courses and bodies; discharge to surface water; proposed water diversion; storage and drainage facilities on site; and water budget, as well as several other items, explains Carol Hochu, president of the Ontario Stone, Sand & Gravel Association.
“Proper management of ground and surface water is critical to ensuring extraction commences and continues,” Hochu says. “Additionally, the discharge of water from a site requires a permit, and hence a process of examination of impacts. While this primarily affects quarries, it has been used in pits as well.”
Recently, Ontario has led the involvement in the renewal of the Great Lakes Charter Annex, Hochu says. “One of the most salient points in those documents that are now working their way through the Great Lakes bordering states is the transfer of water between watersheds and the utilization and return flow of waters within the Great Lakes Basins,” she points out. “Standards for quantity removal and return flow are indicative of the need to address availability issues.”
The long-term sustainability of the industry depends on the availability of long-term supplies of clean water, water quality, water quantity, and water access. “Competing water users from agriculture, manufacturing, and other water consuming industries will drive the local and regional debates,” points out John S. Hayden, vice president of environmental services with the National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association (NSSGA).
However, it’s important to note that the aggregates industry is a water mover, not a consumer. “We need to separate ourselves in this contentious debate from other industry sectors that deplete groundwater and divert surface water,” Hayden says. This doesn’t mean the aggregates industry has no localized impact in areas where the groundwater table is high, he says. But controlled reintroduction of the pumped water back into the hydrogeologic cycle via groundwater injection wells — or just putting the water back into a surface system — can mitigate the localized impacts felt by neighbors on their supply wells, Hayden adds.
With members spread out across the nation with great diversity and regional differences, balancing the needs of members could prove challenging, especially because there are differing opinions as to whether water should be sent to different areas. To assist in alleviating these challenges, NSSGA in June created a Water Resources Task Force of the Environmental Committee to monitor and track state and regional activities with regard to water use, access, availability, and quality. This group, along with NSSGA’s Government Affairs Division, also will monitor federal legislative proposals dealing with water use.
“I see NSSGA as a clearinghouse of existing information related to water resource issues for our membership,” Hayden says. “We will gather information already created by states such as Michigan and others and use that to develop a clearinghouse of state and regional best management practices, legal dispute resolution initiatives, and workable regulatory schemes.”
Tracking regulatory initiatives is critical now, especially with some legislators suggesting national water policies. New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democratic presidential candidate, told the Las Vegas Sun in late October that if he is elected, he plans to bring states together to discuss how the water-rich states could assist states with shortages, such as in the Southwest, according to a report in the Detroit Free Press that sources The Sun’s report.“I want a national water policy,” Richardson told The Sun, according to the newspaper report. “We need a dialogue between states to deal with issues like water conservation, water reuse technology, water delivery, and water production. States like Wisconsin are awash in water.”
These statements caused alarm among environmentalists, according to the report. And, “comments like these are taken very seriously in the Midwest,” MAA’s Newman says.
Henriksen agrees, adding that future challenges will center on whether the government decides to limit water withdrawal of producers and any other water users. “We must be prepared to educate policymakers and the public at large regarding the aggregates industry’s impact on the hydrogeologic regime of our region,” Henriksen points out. “Our…economy and well-being depend on the ready availability of water, a resource we have historically taken for granted…The aggregates industry must be alert for legislative, regulatory, or policy initiatives that impact our access to water as well as to access required by our customers.”
What are your rights?
Different states have different laws as to who may claim rights to water and how it may be done. Water rights in the United States are determined through two divergent systems. Riparian water rights are common in the Eastern United States, and prior appropriation water rights (developed in Colorado and California) are common in the West. Each state has its own variations on these basic principles. Typically, water rights are established by obtaining authorization from an individual state via a water right permit.