Mr. Bureaucrat, May I Please Have a Drink of Water?

Imagine a world where you have to get government permission to get a drink of water. This sounds like the plot of a very bad movie. Considering the worrisome actions of federal bureaucrats, it’s a possibility. The federal government is on the move to take control of our water supply. The United States Forest Service has laid claim to underground water on federal lands and those that surround it.

There are several problems here. The first is ownership of the land the federal government claims. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, one of our four founding documents, declared that every state would enter the Union under equal terms with the original 13 colonies. The Constitution set minimal federal land ownership within a state: 2% or so for arsenals, post roads and such. The remaining land would be sold by the federal government to private individuals, with jurisdiction for that land then passing to the states. This ordinance is still in effect.

Nevertheless, the federal government cheated western states. It kept their lands, contrary to policies followed for eastern states. It now owns 30% of total US territory, mostly in eleven western states, with 2/3 of Utah stashed in the national larder. These lands are locked up from private or commercial use. Consequently, we are poor stepsisters to our eastern cousins. We pay for that discrimination with loss of revenue and jobs we could have from use of that land That revenue could fund exceptional schools and services, such as the police force. We—our children, our economy, our security, our pocketbooks—pay the price for Utah’s confiscated lands.

The concept of national parks and wilderness areas—the typical excuse for keeping western lands—is bogus; the federal government was given no authority to lock up these lands. Parks and wilderness areas can be beneficial, but their creation and management must be done through states and their elected representatives. To take vast lands from some states and not others is discrimination.

Secondly, the national government has no right whatsoever to manage water rights. They said so in 1877 with the Desert Land Act, which gave water matters exclusively to the states. This law is still binding. It is part of our national contract with government and it is being violated. We all need water, and we need rules for allocating its use, but those rules must be set locally. No distant federal agency can effectively assess local needs.

Eighty years ago our national legislature, through the Federal Register, created the federal departments that blindside our prosperity. Under FDR’s New Deal in the 1930s, Congress copped out on its job to draft laws and delegated its duties to agencies such as the National Forest Service. More recent Congresses continue the problem. This has turned America into one vast bureaucratic playland. Departments set policies and regulations without input from us, through our elected representatives. This fundamentally transformed our constitutional republic. The will of the people, who are its base, is ignored.

Now the federal government wants not only the water supply on national lands, but control of water that originates, passes through or is adjacent to the lands they claim.. That gets ugly; water flowing underground is bound to cross federal property, and how broad is the definition of “adjacent”? With federal control of 66% of Utah, almost any water in the state would be affected, including the streamlet in your neighborhood. Federal control could potentially affect all property ownership, giving the federal government control of your home. Such travesties are already happening across the nation.

The great fear is that, through encroachment, the federal government will eventually take control of all water everywhere. For a glimpse of this usurpation in another arena, consider what has happened to US commerce. Congress is authorized only to assure free trade in a national common market and effective commerce between states. By degrees, however, the federal government now controls almost every action in the nation under the excuse of “commerce”. First, railroads were controlled, then anything related to transportation: gas and oil pipelines, aviation, communication by wire and radio and manufacture of transportation devices, such as automobiles. Human labor, working conditions and wages came under regulation next, then electricity and telephone services. Without a shred of constitutional authority, the federal government now regulates commerce within state boundaries, local businesses and goods consumed on site on family farms.

This is where government control always leads. Do we want this control over the water that keeps us alive? Briefly visit George Orwell’s “1984” to imagine a world where government determine your ability to get a drink or flush a toilet. In the emerging humanist world, where rights are expendable and governments are all-powerful, such things are possible.

The Forest Service gushes over the supposed benefits of this control: “By improving the agency’s ability to understand groundwater resources, the proposed directive would make the agency a better and more consistent partner to the states.” Yeah, right! Workable partnerships have equal power, equal rights and a respected, cooperative division of duties. That balance isn’t found very often, or for very long, in state and federal “partnerships”.

This government overreach spells trouble. For the sake of all of us—farmers, ranchers, businessmen, educators, moms, dads and children—we need local control of our water supply. The state needs to tell the feds to take a hike and leave our water alone.