Can you dam a river on your own property?

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Can you dam a river on your own property?

  • Michael Esch

    For libertarians who consider themselves environmentalist, What do you think should happen if someone dams up the river going through their property? Essentially ending all the profits or destroying the property value for all the other people that used that river.

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  • Mike Vroman

    A good question, but at some point, some of the water would have to be released, allowing the river flow to resume. The real problem would be upstream, where the reservoir forms. This should be a clear case of both property infringement and environmental destruction, and be weighed against the willingness of the property owners to sell out and the benefits of replacing the original environment with a new one.

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    Youliy Ninov

    Here is what I think.

    Since this river passes through his property then the owner has the right to use it as he wishes. The water that flows out of his piece of land is his own. So, if somebody down the river wants to use his water, he/she must pay. If one has not paid one has no right to complain that something, which is not his by definition has disappeared  at some moment ( and his crops died due to the lack of water). The above requirement ( to pay) however applies to everybody along the river. So if the river  springs up in a particular property and passes through 9 more then  every successive property owner must pay the previous one if he wishes to use the water. However when one pays for something it is highly unlikely that the river will be dammed. It must be economically justified to do this. That is, the profits from damming the river must be bigger than the profits from selling the water to the owner of the next property down the river.

    Lets give an example: My neighbor (down the river from me) dams the river for some purpose and makes money out of it. He does this with my water. How so is he going to profit from my water without paying me a fair share for it? I will sue! Or I may dam the river myself? He can dam it, then why can’t I?

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    Rick Rule

    This subject brings up many issues that have perplexed me for decades.

    The water that flows on surface, and the larger subsurace flows originated up upstream. If the upstream properties have better subterrainian storage geology than my property, who rightly controls the recharge from that storage capability.

    If the upstream owners ” degrade” their property from a riparian values” point of view ( by over harvesting subterrainian resources and thus impairing fyture storage, or by clear cutting and degrading upstream water sheds have they harmed me in a way that gives me a claim? Do they or I have an obligation to minimise the discharge of deleterious material from our own activities on our own property?

    Do I rightly own that wihich fell as precipitation on my property, or may I charge downstream users a ” transmission rent” for ” migratory water? What about migratory fish? They cross my property on the way upstream to breed, and back downstream to the sea, unless I block their route. How do I weigh my contribution to their existance, and my claim to use relative to other habiltat owners?

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    Youliy Ninov

    “Do they or I have an obligation to minimise the discharge of deleterious material from our own activities on our own property?”

    For instance if you produce some harmful substance and release it in the river. In such a case you are responsible for it. If you deny the responsibility, then the owners downstream have the right to forbid you to supply them  with water. That is, they will insist that you dam the river , so that water does not pass through their property. They have this right because they own their land. And you have no right to say no. So, the best would be to pay them some money in order to compensate them for the potential damages. They can even sue you if you refuse to stop polluting (or damming the river, etc).

    “Do I rightly own that wihich fell as precipitation on my property”

    Yes.

    ” or may I charge downstream users a ” transmission rent” for ” migratory water? ”

    If they use it you may charge them.  However if you do, then you can be sure that the one upstream from you will do the same (will want to to charge you).

    “What about migratory fish?”

    It is the same. If they use the fish, which passes from your property to theirs you can charge them. However you will most probably be charged also (from upstream landowners).

    There are typically no problems when property rights are clear. Problems arise when property rights are not clear. When you own something you have control over it (over this resource) and if somebody wants to use it he must pay.

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      Rick Rule

      with regards to deleterious material, some real life examples;

      numerous upstream owners use water for irrigation. Their irrigation use leaches salt and naturally occuring micro minerals like Silenium out of the soil, and transports them downstream, degrading other water uses.

      upstream users plow, or log, which displaces top soil as sediment, which degrades down stram water quality.

      More on migratory fish ( salmonid)

      The fish spawn upstream, do those owners have special rights?

      The fish feed and mature downstream ( in the ocean) where their economic value is added. Do the owners of those habiltats have rights that are superior in some fashion o the rights of riparian owners whose property is merely used for migration?

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    Youliy Ninov

    Rick,

    Disclaimer: What I explain is how I think this will happen in a free society (where the property rights are obeyed 100%).  Since nowadays the ownership of rivers is unclear everything is fuzzy.

    About upstream pollution: They would have to pay you for polluting the water passing through you land. Or keep it there somehow, or cleaning it somehow or whatever you both agree.

    About rights over fish:

    I would say the following: I do not know what is important or more important (spawning or maturing)  but I rely on the price mechanism. The owners of the lands around this river will have to come to some distribution of the income from fishing. There is always a tendency that people try to get as much money for something as they are able to control it. So,  this problem will solve itself with market means. And neither you nor I can say what the end prices will be.  An example:

    There is just one owner who is a fisher (downsteam). Because fish migrates  he will have to pay some amount of money to the neighboring owners. They will on their part have to pay part of the money to the ones next to them. After some time the whole income from fishing will be distributed in some way among all owners who can control the fish. The owners whose land is more important will get more  money from the others because their influence can be bigger and if they refuse to cooperate the losses of the others will be big. As I said, the price mechanism will arrange for the proper distribution of the income from fishing. Nobody can calculate all the factors which influence the breeding and maturing of fishes. But the market can. And it will do it.

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    Anonymous

    A very interesting question. When I was in Afghanistan in 2012, we pulled up in a very remote area to build a new police checkpoint (another completely pointless exercise). As we got established, one of the locals came over to us and reported that his neighbor was “Taliban”. The grunts went in and searched this supposed Taliban’s house. Naturally they found nothing, as most home invasions in Afghanistan do. When questioned further, the local admitted that his neighbor had “redirected the aqueduct that ran through his property” and he now had no water. He very kindly asked us to go and “kill” his neighbor.

    There was a tribal court that the angered man could have appealed to but they are notoriously corrupt and sectarian (kind of like our courts).

    This was not the only time a local tried to use the strength of the state in its purest form to deal with a problem, but it certainly shows the role for which the state plays perfectly, the executioner.

    The man may have been able to resolve the dispute peacefully through negotiation but pride may have stopped him from doing it. I also wonder how this would have been solved in a free society where people were not so quick to demand the death of someone when they felt wronged.

     

     

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    Youliy Ninov

    “The man may have been able to resolve the dispute peacefully through negotiation ”

    There is no guarantee that this could ever happen. That is why judges are necessary, to take an impartial look at the particular situation.

    ” I also wonder how this would have been solved in a free society where people were not so quick to demand the death of someone when they felt wronged.”

    Lets see what has happened. This man had had the water for free for a long time. So long that he has decided that it belongs to him. And after this water been redirected he felt he has been unjustly treated. Had he been paying for the water? No. So, how then could he say that it belongs to him? The fact that he had used it for a long time means nothing.

    Such situations occur when the private property rights are not clear. In this case the rules for using this water were not established and that is why problems occur. By the way, from where does his neighbor get his water supply? Does it spring  from his own property? If not, then he (the neighbor) could suffer the same fate in the future.

    So, in a free society the private property rights would have been clear and a court (free of corruption) would exist. The reason why the court is corrupt is that there is no competitive court to go to (not allowed to exist).

     

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      Anonymous

      Fair points. As far as the courts are concerned, the only way I see a settlement being reached in the situation mentioned above (in a free society) would be for both parties to enter into a contractual agreement to honour the ruling of the court. There could be multiple courts presiding over the same case.

      As far as ownership of the resource is concerned, I am perplexed as to how this could be attained unless it is stationary. One that is even harder to answer would be the ownership of air. Whilst it is readily available to everyone (except downtown china), air pollution is something that could be a property rights issue. Not too detract from the water, but these are such complicated things that assuming one lives in a free society, how would any of these property rights be enforced, let alone disseminated to the population?

      When it comes to the rules that outline property rights, how would they be decided upon?

      Another one would be the tiered ownership of land. It could be possible to foresee a situation where one could own a subterranean plot of land (mining company or something of the sort).

      Lots of red herrings in there!

      Back to Michael’s original question:

      Without having a clear picture of the property rights that are agreed upon within the society, one could envisage the only way to deal with someone who did that would be social vilification. Without using force or coercion, the community could be informed of the matter and each individual would make up their mind as to whether they would want to deal with the individual in question. In a society with no government forcing retailers to sell to everyone, members of the community could cut this person off from supply. On the other hand, if the majority of the people were on the side of the dam builder, the peoples land that was ruined would be up shit creek with a politician for a paddle.

      If the dam builder took aggressive action against those shunning him, self defense may make the problem void of concern.

       

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    Youliy Ninov

    “As far as the courts are concerned, the only way I see a settlement being reached in the situation mentioned above (in a free society) would be for both parties to enter into a contractual agreement to honour the ruling of the court.”

    There is a better way, namely that they have agreed beforehand what kind of laws will be valid on their pieces of land and consequently which courts to go to. A contract about the water distribution /ownership should exist. Only when such a contract exist are the property rights well defined.

    “As far as ownership of the resource is concerned, I am perplexed as to how this could be attained unless it is stationary.”

    I do not understand what you mean.

    “Whilst it is readily available to everyone (except downtown china), air pollution is something that could be a property rights issue.”

    How about that: If a neighbor pollutes the air on your piece of land, then you go to court and request a compensation. He has caused damages to you and must pay for it. You however will have to prove what damages you have suffered.Still, as in the previous case, there must be a common law authority, accepted by both of you.

    “Without having a clear picture of the property rights that are agreed upon within the society, one could envisage the only way to deal with someone who did that would be social vilification.”

    Without a clear picture of the property rights it will come to initiation of violence (most probably).

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      Rick Rule

      It would be interesting to think about how to settle these problems in the evolution of a free society. It is one thing to say ” according to theory ” X” would be optimal in a perfect world, but how would we retroactively assign riparian rights or rights to migratory or transitory resources retractively in the  creation of a voluntary or contractual society?

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        Youliy Ninov

        I suggest the following rule: If and while it is on your property (land) it belongs to you. So, a river passing through my  property is my own within my land borders unless negotiated otherwise (for instance that  I have sold the land stripe thorough which this river flows, or I have allowed it to be used by somebody else (I must be payed)). A herd entering my property is also mine. Any comments?

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        • Rick Rule

          I suspect that retroactive deprivation of a right which has histrically been enjoyed would be impossible to establish

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        • Youliy Ninov

          And what will be the big change? Up to this moment I have used water from the river passing through my land to water my crops. Now I will use the same water but may need to pay or be payed for it (depending of whether  it comes from another place, goes to another place or springs from my piece of land). I have had control over the stretch of the river passing through my property before and I will continue having it now.

          If such rights were impossible to establish (as you say) then there would be constant conflicts/wars. Where private property rights are not established then nothing is clear. Chaos may ensue.

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        • Rick Rule

          established riparian rights were established by improvement and prior usage. Perhaps not suitable or equitable in your model, but without a transitional protocal to adjudicate disputes in a transtion of riparian rights, this discussion will always be academic.

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    Youliy Ninov

    “…established riparian rights were established by improvement and prior usage.”

    I explain exactly this in my previous posting. Do you mean that somebody else watered his crops on my land? Or that somebody else used somehow the water from the river passing through my land? I (the owner of the land around the river) have implemented ” improvement and prior usage”.The main difference from the previous situation will be just that one will have to pay  or be paid. The rest will stay the same. The resources will be used by the same people and in the same way. It is just that  the income produced by these resources will be distributed differently (but in my humble opinion the difference will not be big).

     

    “..but without a transitional protocal to adjudicate disputes in a transtion of riparian rights, this discussion will always be academic.”

    This discussion can unfortunately be only academic. What do you actually expect?

    By the way if you insist on a fixed transitional protocol to adjudicate disputes in a transition of riparian rights, then what you want is the existence of a state with laws enforced from the state. A  resource must belong to the person who can control it and use it.  Because of this reason one can not take out/exclude somehow rivers (for instance) from land ownership. Nowadays this is done artificially by the state so that the state can use rivers to its personal preference and exercise control.

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      Rick Rule

      One of my remaining missions in life, is to make this discussion decidedly less academic. A small contractual society can occur in my lifetime, and I’m old. The conversion from existing norms to a society I envision would involve the practical resolution to reorganizing existing rights, customs and privileges in a way that achieved buy in from existing participants.

      The academic discussions are of interest, and use, but I don’t have too much time left to learn and discuss. When the opportunity presents, if it does, I’ll likely have one chance to act.

       

       

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        Anonymous

        The formation of a free society could occur from the purchase of a large swathe of land and the reselling to interested parties. This would likely draw quite a bit of interest so there would need to be some sort of contractual agreement, some form of clearly delineated rights that can be agreed to by the purchasing party. I see that a company is planning to park a ship in international waters to use for office space and it has already garnered quite a bit of attention and interest.

        In a hypothetical situation, 1000 lots of land were for sale. All 1000 lots had interested parties so a conference was held where property rights were outlined/discussed/debated until all parties contractually agreed to purchase the land based on the rights. Anyone who disagreed would not sign and their prospective lot would be sold to someone who would agree. In the future, if the lots were sold again, the rights would be included in the contract.

        This would enable the attraction of libertarians by default as those looking for handouts or a situation where they could abrogate the use of violence to a third party with the intent of infringing on someone else’s property rights would be disappointed.

        Private security companies can be used to protect property rights and social vilification can be used to deter those who would attempt to circumvent these rights.

        There would likely be many forms of currency used in the society including other nations fiat currency, precious metals and cryptocoins, what ever the market decided was the best would win out. Without government regulation there would likely arise some form of gold backed digital currency (private banks could back accounts with gold for a fee) as many libertarians subscribe to the austrian school and would like to see sound money in a modern form.

        Defense of the society as a whole would likely take the form of individuals owning firearms or employing private security. Without the possibility of a national defense force coming to the aid of the society, individuals who previously may not have had any interest in firearms may suddenly become interested to provide a level of protection insurance to their belongings and rights. Volunteer militia’s within the society may also arise.

        Organisations that were previously funded by the state such as fire departments could be voluntarily run with community support (where I live in New Zealand, nearly every town has a volunteer fire brigade and it is a very popular community organisation).

         

         

         

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        Youliy Ninov

        I am under the impression that you are not interested any more in such an academic discussion but I am still tempted to ask:

        1. You mention “buy in from existing participants”.  How are you going to sell something which does not belong to anybody (we assume the state does not exist)?

        2. If you sell it, then who will get the money from it and and for  what purpose?

        3. Why do you intend to sell? This will deprive the landowners/companies from funds for developing the project.

        4. If selling is intended to get the best possible owner for the particular property (land, river, etc.) then one should include ALL potential buyers, which typically means that the ones who have used the resource before will not be able to obtain the resource (not always but typically). In this case the rights arising from previous use are not properly considered.

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        • Rick Rule

          I am happy to listen to an academic discussion, but i’m not a social philosopher, so I have little to add.

          As to assuming the state does not exist. I’d prefer to assume I was 21, extreemely handsome, brilliant and wise.

          I’m interested in the mechanisms involved in a transition from what is to what can be, in the real world.

          I am interested in particular to questions related to the question posed here. If one owns a peice of the continental shelf, how do you allocate value and maximise economic utility in the fishery, where the fish occupy the entire habitat, and the resource must be managed across the entire habitat to maximise value and obviate the commons problem.?

          This is not to restrict or degrade anybody else’s discussion. Be as academic as you wish. it amuses me too, it is less useful to me, in the context of strategies I’m considering.

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        • Youliy Ninov

          Rick,

          You are free to do everything you wish. However the  question is if what you will do will be right solution or will cause deaths/violence/problems.  Pushing the academic discussions away does not help at all. Then one will have to rely only on  the old  and tried trial and error principle. It is just the number of people who will die in the meantime which presents a problem.

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