States squaring off over water 'haves,' 'have-nots'

2013-05-04T19:30:00Z 2013-05-04T23:26:15Z States squaring off over water 'haves,' 'have-nots'Phil Wieland phil.wieland@nwi.com, (219) 548-4352 nwitimes.com

Water fights used to be a fun thing to do on hot summer days. These days, they are deadly serious and can go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Today is the start of National Drinking Water Week, an observance initiated by the American Water Works Association more than 30 years ago to increase awareness of the need to conserve and preserve our limited water resources.

The essence of the campaign is expressed in "The Future of Water" by Steve Maxwell, who wrote, "Unlike other commodities, water is infinitely renewable, but its supply is essentially fixed, and we have no substitutes whatsoever for the critical role that water plays in each of our lives."

The amount of water we have for drinking, cooking, cleaning, flushing our toilets and the myriad of other uses water has is the same as it was when dinosaurs roamed the planet's surface, when the pyramids were built or when Columbus discovered America.

And it's not going to change, no matter how many people live here.

It's not that we don't have enough water. The planet is 70 percent water. The problem is that less than 1 percent of it is fresh and 70 percent of that is used for agriculture. Even most of the water we drink has to be treated, but we are using it faster than it can regenerate itself.

One of the results is the battle between Texas and Oklahoma, now being heard by the Supreme Court, over control of the water in the Red River. According to a story from NPR, the two states have an agreement to share the water, but Texas wants a larger share, including the right to extend a water line to the Kiamichi River, a tributary of the Red, which is totally within Oklahoma's borders.

It's all because north Texas is one of the fastest-growing regions of one of the fastest-growing states. Its bright future is threatened by being a dry area that has been hit hard by drought. Having tapped all the water supplies within its state, Texas is looking across the border to Oklahoma.

Oklahoma has passed restrictive laws prohibiting transporting the water out of the state, and, while the lower courts have upheld those laws, the U.S. has filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of Texas as part of the Supreme Court case. It's a case the could have far-reaching impacts on water-rich areas, like the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes contain about a fifth of the world's fresh water supply, and the Great Lakes Compact, involving all the states abutting the lakes and the two Canadian provinces, was created to protect the lakes. Only communities within the lakes' watershed can tap into them.

This has left towns like Lowell out of the water loop in the past, and states out west have talked about transporting Great Lakes water to meet their water needs. Valparaiso is looking again at the possibility of switching from groundwater to Lake Michigan water in the future.

"You need water for economic development," said Valparaiso Utility Director Steve Poulos. "Not many studies have been done to develop a plan for a national water shortage. The compact could be tested as water gets scarcer and there are fewer alternatives."

Valparaiso was the first community in the state to develop a water conservation plan, but it mostly deals with educating the public about the need to use less water. During the drought conditions in the Midwest over the past couple of years, the city saw its aquifer drop a bit.

"We are not in the critical situation of others, but that's the risk with groundwater," Poulos said. "We're in the unique position of having groundwater but with the opportunity to being in lake water. We have to look long term for the potential growth of Valparaiso for the next 20 to 30 years."

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