Who owns the water? While oceans, rivers and other surface waters have been recognized as part of the commons going back to the Magna Carta—and beyond that to the Roman Empire, when the public trust doctrine was articulated to ensure people’s right to use seashores—the issue of groundwater has been less crystal clear. In many cases, it’s assumed that landowners are guaranteed rights to all water below the surface of their property.
But with water shortages looming as a 21st Century concern, environmental activists with an awareness of the commons such as the Vermont Natural Resources Council [link to www.vrnc.org] are working to protect groundwater supplies for the public.
VNRC recently helped passed landmark legislation in Vermont that would prohibit any landowner from pumping more than 57,600 gallons of water a day, except for water utilities, agricultural operations, fire districts and some geothermal energy systems. The law takes effect in 2010.
This legislation grew out of efforts by residents of East Montpelier, Vermont, opposing plans by Daniel Antonovich, a New York furrier, to bottle as much as a quarter million gallons daily from a spring on his property. No one was sure how this would affect the local water supply.
Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Michigan have also taken steps to protect groundwater, according to the New York Times.
Photo by Robby Garbett from Flickr Creative Commons License BY, NC, SA.