By Jake Voorhees
At school, students at Duke always are baffled about why I want to be a water rights lawyer. They simply cannot believe that water is as complex and nuanced as I describe it to be. They always just associate water with what comes out of their faucet while taking a shower or brushing their teeth. I knew that water was extremely complicated, but I quickly realized just how difficult it is to regulate after I met Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Interior, Alan Mikkelsen.
I was able to meet the commissioner at the Red Bluff Diversion Dam to discuss the fish screen that had been put in place in 2012. As we took a tour of the facility and saw how the pumps operated and how the jetty system worked, I was able to hear something very interesting. His job as the Deputy Commissioner is to make sure that water resources are used properly throughout the regions. There are eight regions that he is tasked with regulating water. He was describing some of the advice he was getting and he said that the California region had only received one hour when it truly deserved almost every single minute. While he made this statement in a joking manner, there was definitely some validity behind that statement. California has one of the most diverse and important farming ground in the entire world. The farmers in California depend on a network of dams and water systems to ensure that they will have enough water to support their crops.
Being able to sit in on this meeting and hearing all the issues made me realize the difference in what I learn in school from what actually happens. When learning in the classroom, you always hear about how we need to change from taking water from aquifers and quit building dams in the West. However, this does not really discuss the effects of what would happen to the farms that depend on those water sources and dams. Watching the Deputy Commissioner take in all the details about the dam made me aware how complex of a job it would be just to regulate California water issues, but he has to try and understand the entire United States and all the different types of water diversions used. Listening to him talk, I knew this is why water will always be the most precious of resources and how the importance of water will never diminish.