Colorado College Professor of Environmental Science and Southwest Studies Eric Perramond has published a new book, “Unsettled Waters: Rights, Law, and Identity in the American West.”
In the American West, water adjudication lawsuits are adversarial, expensive, and lengthy. Perramond’s book, the first detailed study of water adjudications in New Mexico, focuses on the process of adjudication and the impacts and effects on water users across cultures in the state of New Mexico, examining the different cultural values of water among groups such as Pueblo peoples, Hispanics, and public policy makers.
New Mexico originally envisioned adjudication as a straightforward accounting of water rights as private property. However, the adjudication process caused both old and new tensions to surface and created conflicts among water sovereigns at multiple scales. The legal process tried to “translate water” from something shared and essential into a private property use-right.
Based on more than 10 years of fieldwork, with insights from 274 interviews and archival research, this book tells the story of resistance involving communal water cultures, Native rights and cleaved identities, clashing experts, and the unintended outcomes of a legal process. One reviewer notes, “Eric Perramond makes water adjudication a very human process, one that reflects the values, frustrations, and goals of water users and water experts alike.”
Perramond’s fieldwork took him to nine different river basins across the state, speaking to farmers, ranchers, legal experts, water managers, and was also informed by various CC senior theses that were produced along the way.
Whether the state can alter adjudications to meet the water demands in the 21st century will have serious consequences. “We have to reconcile cultural understandings of water which do not treat it as simply a resource or a property right, and understand that Western water laws may not provide us with suitable tools for addressing water needs in this new era,” he says.
Perramond, a geographer who holds a joint appointment in the Environmental Studies and Southwest Studies programs, joined the Colorado College faculty in 2005. “Unsettled Waters,” his second solo book, is published by the University of California Press as part of its “Critical Environments” series. Perramond also is the author of “Political Ecologies of Cattle Ranching in Northern Mexico” (2010; University of Arizona Press).