Academic journal article Albany Law Review

When Every Drop Counts: Addressing Hydrologic Connectivity as a Climate Change Issue

Academic journal article Albany Law Review

When Every Drop Counts: Addressing Hydrologic Connectivity as a Climate Change Issue

Article excerpt


Water is the resource that sustains populations and allows for the growth and expansion of society. Across the nation, from contaminated water sources (1) to depleted reservoirs, (2) conflicts over water supplies are becoming increasingly common. (3) One of the main drivers of these conflicts is the rapidly growing understanding of the effects of climate change on the water cycle. (4) The fact that climate change is affecting our world (5) and consequently our water system is an undeniable truth. (6) The disjointed, and often uncoordinated allocation of water rights across our country (7) is in drastic need of an overhaul in light of the evolving conditions of climate change. In order to fully appreciate all of the challenges and opportunities present in current water allocation regimes, each element of the water system needs to be independently analyzed and adapted to prepare for future changes. Some of the necessary changes and adaptations are easily recognized by the general public, (8) and therefore have seen a more rapid response from regulators aimed at tackling the issues before they cause greater problems for water use. (9) However, full understanding and adaptation to climate change requires an analysis of all elements of the water system and how they are affected by the impacts of climate change. (10)

This note will focus on a relatively obscure and unrecognized aspect of the water system--hydrologic connectivity. (11) Due to the (until recently) largely unknown properties of groundwater flow and its connection to surface waters, hydrologic connectivity has been a historically underrepresented element of water law. (12) In order to effectively govern water rights allocations, the entire water system needs to be analyzed in the context of climate change to ensure the preservation of sufficient water for our whole country. There is not enough of this precious resource to let it fall through the gaps of our management systems. We need to adopt a holistic approach to accounting for climate change impacts on every element of the water system in an environment where every drop counts.

This note will address the idea of hydrologic connectivity as a climate change issue through a multifaceted approach that looks at many impediments and advantages of adaptive management of hydrologic systems throughout the country. Part II touches on the current understanding of the impacts climate change has and will continue to have on water supplies and provides an overview of the current scope of adapting water rights to climate change. Part III provides an understanding of how hydrologic connectivity has developed as a water management device. Part IV identifies water regimes that have included hydrologic connectivity as a part of their management system and discusses whether these take into account the impacts of climate change. Part V addresses the specific implications of hydrologic connectivity and why this element is necessary to include in the adaptive management of water rights. Finally, Part VI identifies several challenges impeding the inclusion of hydrologic connectivity in adaptive water management systems and provides possible solutions to the problem of implementing such a comprehensive policy.


The scientific community has finally accepted the human contribution to climate change. (13) The impacts of climate change reach well beyond the common focus of increased temperatures on Earth, and these changes on Earth will impact nearly every aspect of human society over the next century. (14) Further, "[c]hanges in the global water cycle in response to the warming over the 21st century will not be uniform." (15) The changes to the water cycle will require an adaptive approach in order to evolve existing water institutions and policy to fit with climate change: "The likely hydrological effects of climate change will upset settled expectations and require water institutions to adapt. …

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