Wet Behind the Ears
In what it is calling a remedy to the excesses of the Clinton years, the Bush administration is paving the way for Western states to gain control over huge volumes of water previously claimed by the federal government. One prominent example of this new policy involves the Black Canyon National Park in Colorado; in 1978, a court ruled that the feds had the right to unspecified quantities of Gunnison River water to protect the park (then a national monument). In an effort to quantify the amount, the Clinton administration went back to court to win the right to control all the river water. But the Bush administration has backed away from that stance and signaled a willingness to cede control over some of the water to the state and other eager would-be users. Environmentalists say the change in policy, which is playing out in many other places across the West, would enable states to transfer water to cities and industries and away from national parks, forests, and other federal lands, with potentially dire consequences. “Virtually every drop of water in the Western rivers running through these federal lands is at stake,” said David Getches, a professor of law at the University of Colorado.