As one of the towns that are fed with water from Mt. Shasta, (the source of up to 40 percent of California’s water supply), Weed’s spring-fed water was a rich resource waiting exploited. A company town set up in 1897, Weed never owned its water rights, and didn’t negotiate for its rights until they were about to be snatched by a bottled water company.
Prevention is Better Then Cure
One obvious lesson from the plight of Weed is that prevention is better than cure. When it comes to vital resources like water, it’s better to negotiate or mediate good agreements from the start. When Weed was set up as a company town in 1897, its water supply, the Beaughan springs, was company property. After the International Company sold the Beaughan springs land to the city, the water rights were not transferred to the city and the city signed a 50 year lease instead. Years later, the lease is up and the successors to the original company, Roseburg, and its business partner, the bottled water company Crystal Geyser, want the city to find a new water supply. The city feels it has no option but to litigate, but attorneys have warned that fighting the companies could bankrupt the city.
The city of Weed attempted Mediation after the companies threatened to strip their water rights, but the process broke down. Mediation isn’t merely a substitute for litigation however, it can often be a tool to prevent conflict before it starts. Mediation should ideally be pursued as early as possible when entering into any agreements that affect a town’s water supply. If conflict is on the horizon, mediation can help to resolve that conflict or help to determine the course of action. The Weed Area Water Alliance has filed a lawsuit to challenge the city’s handling of the dispute and Roseburg’s claim that the lease agreement didn’t require a full review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Meanwhile the city has indicated that its next step against the companies is litigation. As this modern water fable shows, water conflicts are often complicated. Mediation can be a powerful tool to gather information and establish the claims of multiple participants, as well as to give a realistic picture of the strength of a case. The Weed water dispute made an NYT editorial in 2016 that painted the companies in an unpopular light. As a risk assessment tool, mediation may be able to help to calm conflict by establishing the likely trajectory of a court case — if it’s likely to be a long battle or generate negative media attention, mediation can suggest alternative resolutions.
At Boileau Conflict Solutions we are a group of well-educated mediators who handle water and land conflicts using an array of unique techniques informed by law, psychoanalysis and mathematics. We use game theory to evaluate the interests of all stakeholders, grounding our approach in our research in communications theory, psychoanalysis, game theory and the law. We recognize the need to approach water mediation as a conflict with many perspectives and diverse environmental conditions and consequences. We are available in person at our offices in Boulder, CO, Campbell CA and Irvine CA, as well as via phone, skype or zoom. We can be contacted 7 days a week and are available at short notice to mediate conflicts in crisis situations.