The Danger of Relying on a River or Stream for Your Water
We are writing this on Oscar night 2013, so let’s use an Oscar linked concept for this article.
Did you ever watch the Oscar-winning movie, Chinatown? It was nominated for 11 Oscar awards in 1975 and won the best screenplay award. The movie starred Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, and – yes, here now is the segue to this article – featured a plot to do with the struggle for water rights in California.
Access to water is a very contentious thing, both in modern times and historically. A Google search for ‘water right disputes’ brings up 39 million pages. Depending on where you are, your ability to use the water on your land – indeed, in states such as Oregon, even your ability to use the rainwater that falls freely from the sky – is almost certainly restricted by a mess of state and federal statutes.
While many of these restrictions may seem overly onerous and interfering, at least they provide some sort of certainty and guarantee as to what we can expect with the water that passes through our properties.
And perhaps because of the comfortable certainties we sometimes take for granted, we’ve often had people proudly tell us about their retreat, and how it has a river or stream or creek running through/alongside their property. This, we are told, guarantees them all the water they will need, and perhaps also promises them a rich bounty of fish too.
They are more or less correct, but only in terms of today. But what happens WTSHTF and the rule of law crumbles and disappears? What happens when people still need water, but their other sources of water (perhaps an electrically pumped well, or city water, or whatever else) are no longer available? They have no choice but to turn to any nearby river or stream and start taking water from it, surely.
So, depending on where you are along the flow of the river, stream, creek, or whatever you wish to call the body of water moving through your property, its normal flow of water, that is currently protected, with any offtakes and uses controlled, restricted and limited, could change drastically if people simply start taking whatever they believe they need.
That’s a problem, but it is only part of the problem. What also happens when people lose their sewer service too? Will they start feeding sewage into their stream? Will they start washing their clothes in the river? With the loss of electric pumping, will they take their herd of cattle to the river to drink, rather than having water taken up to cisterns and troughs, with the cattle defecating, urinating, and disturbing the water while there?
Maybe the person upstream from you will even throw dead animals in and generally use ‘your’ stream as ‘nature’s automatic trash removal service’?
All of a sudden, you find yourself either with no water at all, or with polluted water that’s not safe to drink.
Oh – and the fishing? How well is that going to work when the guy upstream from you, and the guy downstream from you, both throw nets across the entire river, preventing any fish from getting to your stretch of water?
Now – don’t get us wrong. We like water, and there’s nothing more scenically enhancing than having a ‘safe’ water flow through your property year round. If there’s a chance to use it for hydro power generation, then so much the better – but note our careful use of the word ‘safe’. You don’t want a river that has such a volume of water that it is changing its path, eroding its banks, and possibly prone to flooding your fields on occasion.
When evaluating any water that flows through your property as a suitable source of water and possibly fish, you need to very carefully understand what happens to every foot of that water flow from where it first starts, and all the way along its journey to where it enters your property, and some distance beyond as well. Maybe the guy upstream might build a dam and divert the water’s flow entirely. And if there’s any danger of someone downstream of you building a dam or in some other way blocking the water flow or causing the river to burst its banks and spill out over your land, that’s something you want to know about too.
It isn’t just your immediate neighbor upstream of you. Each person from the water source to you can impact on the quality and quantity of water available to you.
And your problems may not only relate to ‘good’ uses of the water. Maybe the guy upstream from you – or the guy upstream from him – wants to force you (or your neighbor, or both of you) off your land and so they will simply block the river upstream of you and suddenly what was fertile land and easily irrigated becomes neither.
Go watch some more movies. There’s a dozen or more westerns involving disputes over water rights. Should we also point out that, at least in the movies, the disputes were seldom peaceably resolved?
There’s another flip-side to this issue too. If you are planning on being able to help yourself to water from the stream WTSHTF, how do you think the people downstream of you will feel if the water that they too may be relying on diminishes in flow? Someone, somewhere, is not going to passively accept the change from a healthy flow of water to a muddy polluted trickle of effluent, and is going to start going upstream and ‘persuading’ people to ensure that he can get ‘his’ ‘fair’ ration of water, too. Note the quotes around those two terms; water rights are truly a contentious subject and people have very different perspectives as to what is right and fair, depending on their situation and needs.
Our point is simply this : You can’t rely on the current state of water flow on your property, with the underlying assumption being that everyone who potentially could do something to the state of the waterway will continue to abide by every one of the sometimes annoying and restrictive regulations that attach to the rivers and streams that may flow through our land.
If you are in an area which needs supplemental water, and if it is realistic to expect that people will turn to the water source flowing through your property for their water needs (which, after all, is actually exactly what you may be planning to do yourself, too!) then you need to be sure that there’ll be enough water for everyone, including the people downstream of you, because if everyone doesn’t get enough water, disputes will break out, and with people’s survival at stake, the disputes won’t merely involve writing nasty letters and filing law suits to be litigated through the courts over the course of many years and many appeals. They will get violent.
This also points to another thing. After TEOTWAWKI, people’s use of the land they are on will surely change. In some cases, land will be abandoned, but in other cases, land will start to be farmed more extensively and, as best possible, more intensively too. It is not enough to only understand what might happen to the water flowing through your property today, you also have to guess how this might change in the future.
Some of these future changes could be entirely unexpected. What happens if someone starts some sort of factory that either consumes a significant amount of ‘your’ water, and/or discharges waste into the stream?
The more you think about that beautiful stream currently flowing through your property, the more you should come to realize that you can’t take it for granted in a Level 3 or even Level 2 situation. In other words, even if you have what seems to be a perfectly good river/stream providing water to your property today, check out alternate sources of water so that you’re not relying on a single water source in the future.