Mark Lubbell at UC Davis makes the case for abandoning the Mark Twain “whiskey’s for drinkin’, water’s for fightin’ over” quote, and not just because Twain didn’t say it:
Unfortunately, perpetuating water wars and the language of conflict will never solve California’s water problems. Water wars are equivalent to the “tragedy” aspect of managing common-pool resources. What is instead needed is for all the various water stakeholders to find some type of agreement or cooperation to sustainably manage water over time (more to come at later time).
It echoes a point I made in my Lane Center piece about the search for cooperation on the Colorado:
The quote lives on in descriptions of water politics in the arid Southwest, invariably with Twain’s name attached, because of the power of the idea behind it: that the allocation of scarce water is an enduring source of conflict.
But the history of Colorado River management is a more complex story. It is easy to focus on the fighting, and the battles make for some great yarns. But there also is a remarkable history of not fighting – of negotiated agreements – that suggests there is more than one path for dealing with the West’s water problems. Westerners have done their share of fighting, but they also have a remarkable record of cooperation. “History has shown that collaboration is a necessary ingredient for action in the Colorado River basin,” Jennifer Gimbel of the Colorado River Water Conservation Board told members of Congress in a 2010 hearing .