Friday, September 18, 2009

UN Resolution on Transboundary Aquifers

I have just read the UN's recently adopted resolution RE: Transboundary Aquifers - underlying two or more states or countries.  If we were to fully comply with this resolution for the Ogallala Aquifer, Kansas would be:  1) granted sovereignty over its portion of the aquifer; 2) obligated to use the aquifer in an equitable and reasonable and sustainable manner that maximizes the long-term benefits; and 3) required to develop a utilization plan factoring in population, social and economic needs, natural aquifer conditions, alternative supplies and the ecosystem -  any of which can be weighted - so long as special regard is given to vital human needs.

Kansas would also be required to:  1) prevent harm to other states in its use of the aquifer or to the discharge zones located in other states; 2) take all steps to eliminate such harm to other states if occuring - in consultation with the affected states(s); 3) cooperate on the basis of sovereign equality with other states to attain equitable aquifer utilization and protection - establishing joint mechanisms for cooperation; and 4)  exchange all relevant data and information - generating such data and information if not already known.

Kansas would be:  1) encouraged to enter into regional agreements with other state(s) for management purposes; 2) obligated to prevent and control pollution that may affect another state; 3) required to monitor our aquifer to accepatble standards (jointly with other states when possible);  and 4) required to develop a management plan - jointly where appropariate.

Whenever Kansas does any activity that may affect another state, it must assess that activity, notify the affected state(s) and when disagreement occurs, consult with or negotiate eqitable solutions.  This is especially vital in cases of emergencies - natural or human induced activities which will immently affect another state(s) - or when vital human needs are affected.  All states would be bound by international law to protect the aquifer in cases of armed conflict. (IMHO not even the Texans would resort to this!) :)

Whew.  It's not clear how in the US the encouraged cooperative agreements between states would be done.  This sounds more like an interstate compact to me, but I guess less formal MOA's between states would not be precluded.  I asked about such an informal agreement with our neighboring GMD in Colorado once early in my career and was told definitively that it would require an interstate compact - only possible with the consent of Congress.

Anyway, lots of good ideas in the resolution, but...  I wonder how closely the agreement between Utah and Nevada on the Snake Valley Aquifer follows this UN roadmap?  


  1. Lots of interstate compacts dealing with surface water - resulting from combination of court rulings and legislative activity. But few have had any interest in touching transboundary aquifers (except to the extent that they are conjunctively managed with surface waters). But that is about to change with the dispute between Tennessee and Mississippi over the Memphis sand aquifer. There was an attempt to bring suit in federal district court by MS against the city of Memphis, but that court dismissed saying the dispute was between TN and MS, which could only be decided by the US Supreme Court. Pretty sure this will be the first Supreme Court case over interstate groundwater resources. Here's an article from the Memphis paper:
    As Michael Campana often notes, groundwater is usually overlooked during discussions of transboundary water resources. Out of sight, out of mind. But I bet there are some neighbors of TX that worry about their pumpage of the Ogallala in the panhandle area that may be eagerly awaiting an outcome from that litigation.

  2. Chris: Thanks for the comments. I am aware of the surface water compacts - Kansas is involved in 3 of them. I am aslo following the Mississippi V. Memphis case which, as you indicate, may end up looking and feeling like an interstate compact once the Supreme Court is finished. And one that could include the option of appointing an "Aquifer Master" I suppose.

    I continue to think that any federal involvement in state and interstate water issues is a poor second choice - even though some are suggesting benefits of increased federal involvements - for example in the Georgia, Florida, Alabama disagreement.

    All this still begs the question of how such groundater aquifer arrangements, whether federally mandated or state-negotiated/derived, will address and cover the issues felt important in the UN Transboundary Aquifer Resolution. If they do, fine. If they don't, can the world point to the U.S. (a UN participant) and raise questions? Of course, there are links to the Utah/Nevada agreement that I need to visit before passing judgement either way.

    It's always a pleasure to hear from you. Wayne.