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Allocations of Risk Before and After the Flood—Who Picks Up the Pieces?

John R. Little, Jr., Proceedings of 30th Annual Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute (1984)

Americans are a can-do people. While this is reflected in a vast array of accomplishments, it is nowhere better exemplified than in the record of achievement of its engineers and builders. We seem to be particularly proud of our lifestyle, including those physical things that make this lifestyle possiblethe cities, buildings, roads, highways, monuments, factories, refineries, mines, powerplants, dams, bridges, canals, and other modifications of the environment that we have traditionally called improvements. We thus not only tend to believe that problems are for the solving but often decide that things ought to be built to overcome geographic or other shortcomings. If an area is too dry to grow crops or support a city, then we build dams and facilities to irrigate or deliver water to farms, houses, and businesses; if people and goods cannot be readily moved from place to place, then we build roads, canals, railroads, or airports to transport them; and so forth. There has, therefore, been a tendency to view improvements as being good by definition because they solve problems. However, it is the author's view that we have also developed a propensity to avoid or ignore the changes in allocation of risk that inevitably result from these improvements.

Western water resource projects involve this same general pattern but also are imbued with an additional overlay of philosoph