Politics is local? Apologies to Tip O'Neill.
So what prompted this post?
I have met Maggie on three occasions and was impressed on every occasion. A smart, articulate WaterWonk. Yes, a hero, for sure.
I have heard for years that water is a local issue. I have heard it from experts, non-experts, WaterWonk wannabes, and their ilk. I think it's folly to assume that water is entirely or always a local issue. Governance and management issues? Yes, in most cases.
I do want to make it clear that in this post I am talking about community water supply because it is often in that context that I've heard the word 'local' used. It's possible that this post might seem trivial to some of you. I hope so.
Local and Non-Local
The Tweet got me thinking - I have never believed that water is entirely a local issue and so maybe it's time to write about it. I am not here to criticize what Maggie said because I don't know all that she said. All I know is those eight words passed between her lips at some point and the CWN reported them. Keep in mind that my training is that of a physical hydrologist, so my first inclination is to think of the water supply itself - is that local? And what is local?
When I read that Tweet I quickly came up with a number of water supply scenarios that are (seemingly) patently non-local. The first two that came to mind were Southern California (SoCal) and New York City. The former gets its water sources both locally and regionally; the latter's sources are regional. So what makes a water surce local or non-local? If a water source is derived outside a water supply agency's political boundaries and/or its physical watershed or is otherwise beyond its control, then it's non-local.
Southern California and the Colorado River Basin
Take SoCal - specifically, the City of Los Angeles. Much of its water comes from Northern California (NorCal), the Owens Valley (OV), and the Colorado River Basin (CRB). The latter extends to Wyoming; see the map. The stippled areas at the lower left are the regions of SoCal supplied by the CRB. All the aforementioned LA sources - NorCal, CRB and OV - are beyond the city's political boundaries and physical watershed and its control.
But if you have an issue with your SoCal water, you contact your local purveyor - which could be the City of Los Angeles (LADWP), the City of San Diego, Orange County, City of XYZ, etc. These and other agencies are governed and managed locally, which is they way it should be. Who wants to have someone in Evanston, WY, make decisions about LA's water system? You want locals to do the O&M, the planning and management. You want local governance. But also keep in mind that water availability issues may be decided by agents or circumstances far beyond the boundaries, political or watershed, of the City of Los Angeles or SoCal.
The CRB map is instructive in other ways. Note the stippled areas beyond SoCal. Look at the Denver, Salt Lake City, Colorado Springs-Pueblo, Cheyenne, and Albuquerque-Middle Rio Grande metro areas. Each of these regions is beyond the CRB but receive water from the CRB. Local? Hardly. But in each of those areas, water management is presumably handled locally.
New York City
New York City, my birthplace, is another well-known case. The NYCDEP supplies 8M customers and all of its water come from beyond its political boundaries, and much of it comes from outside its watershed. The green areas below show the watersheds; the brownish area at the bottom of the map is NYC. But if your water tastes funny or you see a broken water main, you don't call someone upstate; you call NYCDEP. The system's management is local. But the source is not.
It interesting to note that part of NYC's supply is in the the Delaware River Basin, so the DRB Commission has some control of the NYC water system, as does the State of New York and the EPA.
What About Small-Scale Water Systems?
You're saying that these are all big systems. What about small systems? Aren't they local? Not entirely so.
I live in Corvallis - a small city (55,000; 14 square miles) in western Oregon's lush Willamette Valley. The city supplies and treats our water and treats our wastewater. Our water comes from two surface sources: the Rock Creek watershed, about 20 miles west in the Oregon Coast Range and the Willamette River, which borders the city to the east and rises in the Cascade Range to the east and south. Most of the supply (c. 70%) comes from the latter. The City owns some land (Corvallis Forest) in the Rock Creek watershed, which is located in the Marys River watershed.
The water system is managed and governed locally - no issue there. But although the Corvallis water sources are in watersheds occupied by the City, control of the entire water source is beyond its reach. One could argue (as I would) that Corvallis exerts a great deal of control over the Rock Creek watershed but that is not true of the Willamette River watershed. FYI: I formerly served on the Rock Creek Watershed Management Advisory Commission.
Truly Local Sources - Are There Any? Groundwater
Can I think of a truly local source? The rural watersheds where I work in Honduras are pretty much all local. The commuities own the land, so certainly the ones at the top of the watershed are local. The City of Portland also comes to mind - it's close to being local, but probably no cigar. Up until about 15 years ago, Albuquerque was pretty close to a locally-sourced system. It used 100% groundwater from the Albuquerque Basin, but then again, some of the groundwater might have been recharged from outside the surface watershed.
The latter illustrates a great point. Groundwatersheds differ from surface watersheds, and even in a given area, the groundwatersheds are not the same.
Below is a vertical geologic cross section below Memphis, TN. The beige areas are the aquifers; the blue, the confining (low permeability) units. Let's say you drill a well below Memphis into the Memphis Sand aquifer. That water might come from far outside the greater Memphis area. Then you move 100 feet away and drill a well into the Cretaceous aquifer. The two wells are in virtually the same location on the land surface but likely have greatly disparate source areas.
My Ten Cents
Ahhh, ambivalence! As with most things involving water, the local v. non-local water issue is not cut-and-dry. It depends upon the issue. What do you mean by 'local'? So water can be local (which must be defined, of course). But it also can have a non-local component. As with everything else about water, you need to define your terms and know what you're talking about.
And keep in mind that even if a community has a truly local water source, circumstances (regulations, water rights, growth, etc.) outside the source area can exert strong control over 'local' water issues.
Politics? That's another issue!
"All politics is local. All water issues are not." - Michael E. Campana (apologies to Tip O'Neill)