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Responsibility Goes Together With Land Ownership, StreamsThe author Felice Pace lives in Klamath, Calif., " way downstream," near the mouth of the Klamath River.
By Felice Pace, Guest Columnist, 11/01/04
Klamath Falls Herald & News
Mike Connelly is an excellent writer. His Oct. 5 column is a good example. It sounds good, reads as reasonable and is persuasive. But, when one strips away the flowing prose, Connelly's argument that farmers and ranchers who restore the streams on their property should be guaranteed all the irrigation water they desire forever is not only illogical, it is radical.
The idea that air and water are public goods that every citizen has a responsibility to protect was first articulated by the Roman Emperor Justinian in his legal code. The Justinian Code formed the base for subsequent legal systems including English Common Law. English Common Law forms the basis of United States jurisprudence.
Connelly wants to abolish this jurisprudence in favor of the proposition that each man (and woman) is an island who has no responsibility to his or her neighbors, his or her community or his or her nation, at least in relationship to water and the streams passing through that person's property. This is a radical idea not just because it turns American jurisprudence on its head but also because if it is taken to its logical conclusion anarchy would result.
The alternative to Connelly's view is that responsibilities go along with the rights of property ownership.
If there is a stream flowing through my land, I believe I have a responsibility to make sure that stream continues to function properly so that it can provide all the benefits of water - including habitat, fisheries, swimming, drinking and irrigation water - for those downstream. If my past actions have degraded these public benefits, I believe it is my responsibility to clean up the mess Ive made. While the help of neighbors, whether in local labor or financial help from taxpayers, is appreciated, I do not believe that I am owed anything for fixing the mess I made of my steam or from maintaining a healthy steam once restored.
We, the citizens of the Klamath Basin, must decide. We must chose whether to support Connelly's view that landowners with streams on their property have no responsibility to those who live downstream, or to support the traditional American view that those of us who have streams on our property have a responsibility to downstream folks and to society as a whole.
When you make your decision, please bear in mind the message on a bumper sticker I like. It reads: "We all live downstream."
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