Preserve groundwater for future generations

Aligned with the legal question of whether states like Kansas can legally restrict groundwater pumping without having to compensate the affected water right holders is the ethical and public policy question of whether Kansas should restrict pumping to preserve groundwater resources for future generations.14 Most prudent policymakers and socially conscious citizens would say that a society should not waste water, and Kansas has implemented measures to encourage conservation, such as requiring conservation plans for various water users (Kansas Statutes Annotated, 2005, §82a-733). It is one thing to require conservation measures, especially as express conditions on water rights permits for prospective water users; it is quite another to require reductions by current water users for the purpose of 'saving' water for future generations. Even if it were constitutional to do it without compensation, a proposition that is debatable in Kansas, the answer to the ethical question is not obvious:

The ethical question of imposing safe yield [sustainability15] is intriguing no matter which way one resolves the legal question - if no compensation is required, the water user suffers the immediate economic loss; if compensation is required, the taxpayer loses; in either case, forced curtailments will cause someone to suffer and sacrifice for the future.

This generation's policymakers deciding the issue could consider statements of preserving water for future generations found in statutes, political platforms, the media and literature - popular, environmental and philosophic. From the ethical arena, several rules come into play:

• The Golden Rule - 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'

• Frankl's rule of logotherapy - 'Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now!'

• Kant's categorical imperative - 'Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law.'

• Rawls' principle - '[T]he correct principle is that which the members of any generation (and so all generations) would adopt as the one their generation is to follow and as the principle they would want preceding generations to have followed (and later generations to follow), no matter how far back (or forward) in time'.

• The simple solution to the problem of dividing a piece of pie16 (Peck, 2004, pp. 352-253).

Deciding whether to adopt strict controls on aquifer pumping to conserve water for the future is a very difficult issue. Current irrigation water users are making a 'beneficial use' of the aquifer, as defined in the current Kansas administrative regulations. Opponents to that view deem it wasteful to pump large quantities of groundwater for irrigated crops not normally grown in the otherwise dry-land wheat-farming area of western Kansas, with the resulting crops used for feeding cattle to satiate the nation and the world's hunger for beef. If Kansas were to restrict current agricultural groundwater users from pumping for the benefit of future generations, a serious disruption of the present economy of western Kansas would result.17 Moreover, it is likely that the groundwater saved and conserved for the future would eventually be pumped for municipal use, not irrigation.

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