Incorporating A Biocentric Environmental Ethic Into Western Water Policy Through Implementing Instream Flow Rights

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Tomlinson, J. Blain
Phil Wittman
Dennis Weidman
Matthew McKinney
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Incorporating A Biocentric Environmental Ethic Into Western Water Policy Through Implementing Instream Flow Rights
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Los Angeles has already rendered Owens Valley waterless, now L.A.’s government officials want to pump water from the Columbia River clear down to Los Angeles. Throughout the West water has traditionally been referred to as being an infinite natural resource, but in actuality the West is a semidesert and water is scarce, very scarce. But the manner in which water policy is conducted will not be able to meet the growing concerns of both industrialists and environmentalists. Throughout all aspects of natural resource public policy and management, there is a growing concern for rights of the natural world. Society is beginning to question its very relationship with the natural environment. Hence it is apparent that natural resource public policy and management is in a time of transition. There is an increasing appreciation for policy to reflect more biocentric concerns rather than the traditional anthropocentric values of yesterday. This paper attempts to show that a biocentric ethic must be considered when dealing with western water problems. I attempt to show that natural objects and ecosystems are valuable and deserve moral consideration in and of themselves. The first part of this paper shows how traditional water policy, based on the prior appropriation doctrine, only deals with natural resources as instrumental to man. The anthropocentric environmental ethic only acknowledges human goals and human interests, while concern for the environment only arises when consequences may help or hurt human beings. This paper shows the limitations of prior appropriation due to its anthropocentric base; its biggest limitations are environmental. In the third part of this paper I set up a normative framework from which western water policy should be based. This new and more biocentric environmental ethic will provide itself as a tool for public policy decision makers to reach the delicate balance between industrialization and the environment. Part four demonstrates western water policies that follow a biocentric ethic. There are also examples of a landmark court decision and federal legislation that follow biocentric principles. The main purpose of chapter four is to express the idea that the normative framework introduced is not utopian, but rather practical and realistic. In conclusion I attempt to show that there are needs for major change in western water law. Within the next five to ten years the past one hundred years of western water law will be questioned by a more sensitive and broader biocentric environmental ethic. Charles Wilkenson, professor of law at the University of Colorado, once said that, “Law tends over time to reflect societal values, and this has always been signally true of western water law.” (Wilkenson, p. 317) For. this reason it is my contention that western water law is on the verge of major change, but not a moment too soon. 3
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Political Science & International Relations