Surface Water Withdrawal Permits Programs for Humid Regions
Eheart, J. Wayland
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In humid regions of the eastern United States, rainfalls and streamflows have usually been sufficient to supply nearly all human needs. In those states a set of common-law precedents known as the riparian doctrine has evolved. This doctrine is rather imprecise compared to the appropriative doctrine of the western states. In recent years, problems of concentrated use have become more common and severe in humid regions, leading to calls for water regulations. There are a number of options for such regulations; this paper provides a comparison of alternatives in the context of six program objectives and a number of agency decisions. The first program objective is the ease of setting up the program initially (implementation), operating it routinely (administration), and insuring compliance with it (enforcement). The second is maintaining equity, or the perception thereof, among water users. The third is to maintain minimum streamflows. The fourth is robustness, or insensitivity to errors in the data. The fifth is economic efficiency. The final objective is political and legal feasibility. The first agency decision is what the permit should entitle its holder to do and under what circumstances. An operational definition of a permit must say where, and for how long, the water may be withdrawn and what happens when there is not enough water to supply all users. Options for permit structure are: 1) no regulations, 2) prioritized ministry permits like those used in the West, and 3) fractional permits, in which users' allowable withdrawals increase and decrease with streamflow. Only the latter, fractional permits, are seen as appropriate for traditionally riparian regions. Another agency decision is on what basis permits should be distributed initially. Size allocations could be roughly proportional to some measure of past use rate or current size of operation (e.g., hectares irrigated or population served) with provisions to dissuade profligate use just to receive a higher allocation. Another decision is whether or not permits should be transferable and, if so, under what circumstances or restrictions, etc. The most frequently-cited argument in favor of allowing users to transfer permits is economic efficiency. The chief drawbacks of transfers are that local streamflow rainfalls and streamflows have usually been sufficient to standards could be violated and third parties could be impaired. Other agency decisions include the duration of permits and their averaging periods.