We all live downstream on Round River – an enduring circuit flowing out of evaporation, condensation, rain, snow, again & again into life.

teal line





by Luna B Leopold – Professor: U of California, Berkeley.


As a result, we see dedicated public servants captured by the history of the organization in which they work, subjected to conflicting demands, and receiving no assurance from the public or any overseeing body. The result is that ethos and equity are not part of the system.

I wish to examine here the nature of the ethos and equity that I feel are needed to sustain the public interest in resource use. Then it is desirable to discuss the perceived loss of these qualities and the results of such loss. Then I will turn to some possible means of promoting progress, slow and halting as that progress may be, in bringing to the system an operational sense of the common good.


Decisions in the field of water development and management should aim toward the preservation of the integrity of the hydrologic continuum.

It will be noted that the phrase hydrologic continuum is different from the term hydrologic cycle. The latter continues for good or ill. But the idea of a continuum implies a maintenance of balance--an operational quasi-equilibrium in the processes within the hydrologic cycle.

The first component of such a guiding direction might include the following idea:

Hydrologic continuum might alternatively be called the hydrocycle, involving air, water, soil, biosphere, and humans.

By hydrologic continuum I mean the effective operation of forces in the drainage basin that maintain a balance among processes of rock weathering, soil formation, water and sediment delivery to stream channels, and the exit of water and sediment from the basin. These forces are both biologic and physical. Vegetation promotes weathering, soil formation, and infiltration, but mediates and modifies erosion and surface runoff.

Each part of the system modifies other parts. The flood plain reduces flood peaks.

River curves maintain hydraulic resistance and thus help moderate velocity. Thus both form and presence interact to assure no part of the system accelerates beyond the limits of flexibility. This is what is meant by quasi-equilibrium.

Water reources

The citizenry can become so divorced if they are not informed, if they do not see the consequences of neglect of the general welfare, and if they are given no insight into the operational details of how their own interests are being handled.

The ethos of which I speak is the unwritten gut feeling that the resources of the planet, and of the nation, are worthy of husbandry--indeed are essential to our long-term well being.

The second concept is equity--a dedication to fairness, a desire to consider various interests and treat all with some measure of equality.

Integrity of the hydrologic continuum must include adjustment to a changing climate by gradual, non-catastrophic alterations. Climate has changed radically during the Holocene, indeed, within our own lifetime. As we are becoming alarmingly aware, we can expect more change in the next century.

Let us remind ourselves that much closer than the altithermal period 3000 to 5000 years ago, when the climate was much warmer than present, there was a drought lasting about 200 years, ending about 1500 A.D. After the discovery of America there was a long period of storm and cold that in the United States ended in the last part of the 19th century, just 100 years ago.

The hydrologic continuum has absorbed these marked but gradual changes in climate, but its integrity has been violently disrupted in some places by overpumped aquifers, by deprivation of the throughflow of sediment due to water withdrawal, as examples.

Water withdrawal, storage, and pollution by sediment and wastes will have effects, often adverse, to this continuum, and some are unavoidable. But preservation of the integrity of the continuum ought to be one of the objectives of resource use.

As we dry up mountain streams to provide subsidized irrigation water to grow surplus crops, the sediment continues to reach these streams and will clog the channels.'

The exceptional floods will still occur and the channels, all but destroyed, will flood over land heretofore above the reach of floodwaters.

The special interest bias and short-term outlook is not limited to the government agencies developing and selling water, changing the flow of rivers, and altering stream channels. It can also be seen in some of the other resource agencies.

p. 7.


Specific suggestions for alterations in legal definitions and administrative procedures have been detailed by several scholars, particularly Charles Wilkinson and Marc Reisner.

These include reforming the classic doctrine of appropriation, the need for comprehensive watershed resource planning, the enunciation of substantive policy objectives, and legislation reform (Wilkinson, 1989). Water transfers represent one of the most important useful and practical ways to improve efficiency and equity. Some details of this have been outlined by Reisner ( 1989).

Recognition in some court cases of the public trust doctrine in water law is the single strongest statement that historic uses must accommodate modern needs.

To carry out such reforms, William Ruckelshaus said "In creating the consciousness of advanced sustainability, we shall have to redefine our concepts of political and economic feasibility. The concepts are, after all, simply human constructs" (1989, p. 174).

The natural resources of the United States are a key aspect in the growing world competition. Their management is not guided by any ethos of long-term sustainability.

p. 10.

Management is stressed by a plague of special interests, a disdain for equity, and as a result, the public is the continual loser.

p. 13.