Tensions over water are a global issue, and are still ongoing today. In India, conflicts between the states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka over allocations of the Cauvery River basin have endured since the mid 1870s when the British relinquished colonial control through the Madras Presidency. Multiple formal agreements have been made concerning the distribution of this water, including a tribunal in 1990, but stark differences in philosophical foundations have led to increased tensions and even riots over the resulting decisions.
Across the globe in California’s San Joaquin Valley, similar plights over water allocation have been ensuing. The conflict here is between junior and senior water rights- those with only junior rights receive their water only after those with senior rights have filled their needs. Frustrations are mounting as workers are laid off, farm land is fallowed, and water allocations sold off far above market rates. Thirsty, high-profit almond orchards being ripped out as water scarcity threatens the investments of farmers in the region.
The shared water challenges present in both the Cauvery river basin and the California Central Valley are long standing, complex, and won’t be solved through the individual actions of any one group. Effectively addressing these shared challenges will require innovative new approaches that go beyond traditional public sector solutions. We at WWF along with other leading NGOs such as World Resources Institute, believe that establishing context- based water stewardship targets within a basin will greatly support the public sector and the Sustainable Development Goals. Solving water challenges in places like the Cauvery and the Central Valley that have not been unlocked for over a century will require patience, innovation, a willingness to listen, and a passion to work collectively. But when everyone’s shared future is on the line, what other options do we have?