chapter  10
15 Pages

Water rights and wrongs: illegality and informal use in Mexico and the U.S.

For nearly a decade, Colorado resident Kris Holstrom deliberately broke the law every time it rained. ‘Rain out here comes occasionally, and can come very hard,’ she explains (Riccardi, 2009), ‘To be able to store it for when you need it is really great.’ Since 1999, Holstrom has harvested rain and snowmelt from the peaked roof of her farmhouse. Tucked beneath downspouts, metal drums capture and store runoff, which Holstrom uses to irrigate her vegetable garden – a lush plot on a semi-arid plateau. But until 2009, Colorado outlawed rainwater harvesting because it impinged on downstream property rights, allocated to water users through a decades-old system of ‘¼rst in time, ¼rst in right’.1 Local opinions punctuated the debates between water ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’. ‘If you try to collect rainwater, well, that water really belongs to someone else,’ argues a member of the Colorado Water Congress (Riccardi, 2009). ‘I was so willing to go to jail for catching water on my roof and watering my garden,’ comments a Durango resident, who harvests rain to feed his fruit trees (Johnson, 2009).