Developing a More Holistic Approach to Water Management in the United States
14 Pages Posted: 4 Apr 2006
Americans have generally treated water, just like land and other natural resources, as a commodity for human use, manipulation, and degradation. Little thought or significance, at least until relatively recently, was attached to the adverse environmental impact of reduced stream flows and the damage caused by hydrologic modifications such as dams and by various development activities that disrupt and pollute aquatic habitats. The United States, therefore, faces the difficult challenge of trying at a late date to bring together three separate, but inextricably connected, disciplines, one focusing on water use, one on water quality, and yet another focusing on development and land use. The challenge is daunting, especially in light of both existing water uses and anticipated growth in the demand for water.
Complicating the situation is a fragmented approach to law and regulation. Water quantity law is state-driven, while water pollution law is primarily federal in origin, with the exception of non-point source pollution, which is primarily the responsibility of state government. Land use management, on the other hand, is generally a question for local government.
After exploring the regimes that govern water use, water quality and land use, the article discusses a number of approaches for trying to integrate these regulatory schemes into a mechanism that can better protect the integrity of our aquatic systems, while also meeting most human needs. Perhaps the most important aspect of the analysis lies in its attempt to connect, in terms of law and institutions, the symbiotic relationship between land use and water. Although that relationship has long been ignored, it is essential to conceive of a river and other freshwater systems as part of a larger interdependent ecosystem linking all land and aquatic features in a particular watershed.
Keywords: water, water law, clean water act, water pollution, endangered species, land use, land use management, watershed management, sustainability, water quality
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