“That SB 26 takes the State’s legallyquestionable water right permitting process a giant step further, isillustrated by the fact that, in addition to the prohibition on in stream flowapplications, the bill contains numerous attacks on the rights of citizens andtribes to protect Alaska’s water rights.” – Hal Shepherd Executive Director Center for Water Advocacy
The failure of the division, however, to mention that SB 26 would also prohibitNative Alaskan Tribal Governments from applying for in stream flows, isperhaps, the biggest indication that the Bill represents the latest tactic inGovernor Parnell’s ongoing campaign to quickly and quietly privatize Alaska’swater resources.
The State, for example, already, routinely, processes water use applicationsfor mining, oil and gas uses, while placing on the back burner, simultaneouslyor previously filed applications to keep water in stream for healthy fish andwildlife habitat. Similarly, the division often allows the energy industry totake water without, even, filing an application.
That SB 26 takes the State’s legally questionable water right permittingprocess a giant step further, is illustrated by the fact that, in addition tothe prohibition on in stream flow applications, the bill contains numerousattacks on the rights of citizens and tribes to protect Alaska’s water rights.
These include limits on public comment or appeals when the State issues waterright permits, but only for the majority of individuals and entities that wouldbe impacted by the water taken out of stream; eliminating restrictions ontransferring water rights and increasing the amount of water that can beobtained without applying for a permit.
More to the point, the fact is that, such, privatization of water, whichattempts to marry the profit motive to something that people need to survive,doesn’t work. The increasing commodification of water on a global scale, forexample, prompted the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and CulturalRight’s, in 2010, to adopt a resolution stating that the “human right todrinking water is fundamental to life and health. Sufficient and safe drinkingwater is a precondition for the realization of human rights.”
SB 26, which was introduced by Gov. Parnell after he noticed that some of therecent in stream flow applications were annoying the resource extractionindustry, therefore, represents the failure of government entities in theUnited States to recognize the human right to water.
Efforts by citizens and tribes to prevent the reduction of stream flows neededfor fish, destruction of habitat and toxic effluent from industrialdevelopment, however, are also protected by the Alaska state Constitutionwhich, under Article VIII, expressly states that water appropriations shall nothave precedence over “general [public] uses for fish and wildlife.”
Due to the political fall-out of the impact of its “No Human Right to Water” ontribal governments and communities in Alaska, therefore, its no wonder that theGovernor wants to keep quiet that, particular aspect of the Bill.
In an effort to defend these rights, conservation and tribal organizations havelined up to tell Senators that it is critical for Alaskans to have a directvoice in decisions affecting our shared resources and to suggested amendmentsto SB 26 and its companion in the House (HB 77) that would, at least, preserveexisting rights to protect water resources.
The good news is that, although the proposed amendments were rejected by boththe Senate and House Resources Committees, opposition to the bills, so far, hasslowed their progress and more hearings may be held on them this week. We stillhave a chance, therefore, to urge the legislature not to strip away the rightsof citizens and tribes to keep water in our streams for healthy fish and ask itto reject any legislation that ignores Constitutional and other rights for themajority of Alaskans who depend on water resources for health and welfare.