In Governing the Commons, Elinor Ostrom tells the story of the way some Southern Californians solved the problem of competitive groundwater overpumping. Cities and private water companies realized that if everyone kept pumping like nutso, their aquifer would go dry and they’d all be screwed. So they got together in a sometimes painful, expensive and time-consuming set of processes to come up with a way of jointly managing the resource.
But Ostrom also notes that not everyone is so successful in managing such “common pool resources.” Today’s case in point comes from Bakersfield Californian columnist Lois Henry, who notes the “shocking” (her word) drops in Kern County aquifers:
Shortly after the present drought settled in, around 2007, the City of Bakersfield and two ag water districts noticed a sharp drop in groundwater levels west of town.
The drop coincided with increased groundwater withdrawal by the massive Kern Water Bank, which occupies 32 square miles mostly west of Highway 43 and north of the Kern River all the way to the California Aqueduct.
Members of KWB include the Kern County Water Agency’s Improvement District 4 (ID4), which supplies drinking water to a large swath of town, and a number of other districts, most of which are associated with Paramount Farming (owned by multigazillionaire Stewart Resnick).
I’m reminded of Captain Renault in Casablanca, explaining to Rick why he’s closing down the cafe:
I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!
At which point one of the casino’s employees hands the good captain his roulette winnings.