Water In The West: Bankrupt? : The Indicator from Planet Money Water is one of the West's most precious resources, but it's drying up. We begin a week of the economics of water. Today: Who has the rights? When there isn't enough, could the answer be bankruptcy?

Water In The West: Bankrupt?

Water In The West: Bankrupt?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/1032609785/1032622907" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Tod Seelie/Getty Images
An irrigation canal in the Southern California desert carries water to agricultural fields growing crops in the desert region near the Salton Sea.
Tod Seelie/Getty Images

From wildfires to a historic drought, the climate crisis is making water an increasingly scarce resource in the Western United States. And as we kick off a week of conversations about the economics of water in the west, we speak to water rights lawyer, Christine Klein. She was thinking about the complex history of water and water ownership when she had an idea: Maybe we should think about water more like money.

Christine says that states are currently in the predicament of owing more water in appropriations than they have to give, which leads to dire scenarios like when wells ran dry in California. She thought this situation was a lot like when someone owes another person a lot of money but has no money to pay, which can lead to desperation and escalating tension. If this situation applied to money, the person who owed money would have the option of a reset, which is to say, the option to declare bankruptcy. So how, Christine wondered, might the same bedrock system of our finances be applied to water?

We would love to hear from you! Please take our survey here.

Music by Drop Electric. Find us: Twitter / Facebook / Newsletter.

Subscribe to our show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, PocketCasts and NPR One.