When estranged parents haggle over who gets custody of their child, the courts may appoint a “child representative,” a person, usually a lawyer, to serve as a champion for the child’s interests. There is a whole field of law devoted to this task. Rivers could also use a champion like that, someone to represent the interests of the river in the face of squabbling water users — agribusinesses, cities, industries — who are busy looking out for themselves but don’t think about the welfare of the river itself.
Yesterday I attended a special “field hearing” here in Santa Fe, chaired by New Mexico’s senior senator, Jeff Bingaman, the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The hearing featured prominant experts on water and climate commenting on the new report released this week by the US Bureau of Reclamation, on Climate Change and Water in the American West (Click here for the USBR webpage where you can download the report). There was lots of doom and gloom: This year is the 3rd driest year on record in New Mexico, and studies of climate history suggest that mega-droughts of 30 to 40 years are possible. Add climate change to the mix and the prognosis looks even gloomier: Hotter and drier conditions will make water even scarcer.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman chairing the hearing yesterday
The questions (and not many answers) raised by the experts focused on how local communities can adapt to these changing conditions, e.g., through better information for better planning plus new institutions and market mechanisms for putting water to the best use. It was all about how we people can get through the anticipated droughts with the least disruption to our normal way of life.
No mention of the rivers. How are rivers supposed to get through the droughts, especially when we people are extracting every last bit of water to meet what we consider our more important needs. Even if we are only worried about ourselves, don’t we want our children to enjoy rivers that are still rivers?
We might need two court-appointed representatives, one to represent the river, and the other to represent the unborn generations who have an inherent interest in the survival of the river.
That’s the basic idea behind Bolivia’s new “Law of Mother Earth” now under debate in the legislature, according to Yes! magazine (click here for article). Rivers, along with the rest of Nature, would have legal rights to exist in a healthy condition. The Bolivian government is in the hands of indigenous leaders who value Nature for her own existence. Adapting to climate change takes on the additional meaning of helping rivers adapt to those changes, as well as helping ourselves, in a joint-venture kind of way. We all need to adapt, and survive, together — rivers and people. Will the court please appoint some river representatives to point this out at the next hearing on water and climate?
The Rio Grande near Albuquerque, New Mexico, April 23, 2011