Unauthorized Water Use in the American West

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The Western United States (US) is facing a water scarcity crisis. Population growth and the effects of climate change are driving up demand and decreasing supply of water in the region, with no signs of the problem abating. State governments maintain authority over managing water rights and face increasing occurrences of unauthorized water use. However, little research has examined the issue of unauthorized water use, how states respond, and why states vary in their responses. This paper addresses these issues by clarifying what unauthorized water use is and examines the current data collection practices on unauthorized water use in the American West. This research argues that the demand for water accountability in the Western US will result in states taking steps to address unauthorized water use including implementing stiffer penalties for violations and metering requirements of water users. However, only a handful of states are prepared to move in this direction. The current data confirms the hypothesis that unauthorized water use is on the rise.

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