Kait Schilling


Water, prior appropriation, environment, climate change. Paris Agreement


Climate change is the new lens through which the world needs to view water. Such a viewpoint is prudent, as the western United States is in a state of water scarcity that requires a reevaluation of how fresh water resources are being used. Western states have entrenched themselves in a system of prior appropriation that ensures senior water users retain priority over, and protection from the impacts of, new water users. Unfortunately, allocating new water rights under prior appropriation has become difficult as streams are increasingly fully appropriated with no new water rights allocations available. Climate change is exacerbating this problem by diminishing the amount of water available to water users. Furthermore, because the rights in many streams and rivers have not been reevaluated since their original appropriations, states don't even know how much water is available and how best to manage it. In forming the Paris Agreement, the United Nations wrote Sustainable Development Goal #6 (SDG #6) which encouraged the world to manage fresh water resources more sustainable. In the meantime, European, Middle East, and North African (MENA) countries have implemented holistic management approaches to their fresh waters. The United States can learn from the examples of the EU and MENA countries by revising the system of prior appropriation to reflect the reality of climate change and to better comply with SDG #6.