Either you own the legacy of your farming ancestors or you don’t.

My usual objection to appropriative water rights is that I think seniority is a fucking stupid way to allocate water (and its corresponding wealth). I don’t understand why a farmer should get more water now because his grandfather claimed it a century ago. As between current users of water, having better grandparents doesn’t seem like it should make someone more worthy of having water.

That said, if farmers do want to claim the benefits from their grandparents, they should also own the downsides. There are several types of damage caused by farming that are now “legacy problems”. One of the persistent difficulties of cleaning up nitrates in groundwater, for example, is that current farmers claim that the excess nitrates were applied by previous generations and are not a result of the practices of modern farming. It would not be fair to make contemporary farmers pay for the practices of their predecessors. Soil salinity build-up and subsidence are another two examples.

Seems like the principle of inheriting from farming predecessors should be consistent. If it is right to get the benefits of a water claim staked by a farming predecessor, then it is also right to be on the hook to clean up that farmer’s mess. If it isn’t right to have to pay to clean up the nitrates, subsidence and saltification of previous generations of farmers, then it also isn’t right to get the benefits of their water rights. It isn’t consistent to take legacy benefits but shirk legacy costs.

I propose to start assessing contemporary farmers for the costs to clean up nitrates, subsidence and saltifications. When they howl about fairness, we can say that we’ll drop that assessment if they drop any takings claims for a water rights system overhaul. The environment will end up bearing the costs of polluted groundwater and soil, but t’was ever thus.

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2 responses to “Either you own the legacy of your farming ancestors or you don’t.

  1. Joe

    Good blog. Insightful.