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How Should Cities Finance Water Management?

Coins in waterA debate in Texas highlights the conflicts between business interests that arise in water-stressed areas.

The San Saba River in Central Texas has dried up into a series of stagnant ponds in its downstream portion, the Texas Tribune reports. Low rainfall plays its part. Beyond that, responsibility for the low flow is hard to pin down. A representative of the Menard County Underground Water District said the county is not overpumping its permits, and in neighboring Schleicher County, the manager of the Plateau Underground Water Conservation and Supply District denied that the groundwater pumping in his county was having a significant impact.

Rancher Griffith Thomas called on the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to restrict upstream water use, and nonprofit group Friends of the San Saba called for the appointment of a watermaster to make determinations about water use. But there’s little appetite for that among the water-rights holders, who collectively would have to pay between $113,000 and $228,000 in the first year and about $77,000 to $166,000 after that.

The story highlights a flaw in the system. Why should water users agree to pay the high cost for a watermaster’s salary, when that same watermaster might turn around and restrict their water use? Perhaps a more equitable arrangement would be to collect the money through property tax, with tax breaks available to companies that find significant reductions in water use.

How do you think municipalities should finance their regulation of water rights in cash-strapped times? Leave your thoughts below.

Tamar Wilner is Senior Editor at Environmental Leader PRO.

Picture credit: Mike Fisher via flickr

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