on solving water problems

There’s a tendency, when confronted with water problems, to try to specify solutions: If only we’d junk those golf courses and stop watering our damn lawns so much! Why are we wasting our precious water growing alfalfa in the desert! We must reduce exports from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta! Water markets!

In a post last week, veteran Kansas water manager Wayne Bossert had a great summary of a talk by Bill Blomquist (student of and collaborator with the late Elinor Ostrom) that lists eight characteristics of successful efforts to share common pool resources. Notice that, rather that banning golf, this is about putting in place the institutional framework so folks can come up with workable and sustainable solutions (including, if they so desire, the decision to ban golf). As a water numbers nerd, my particular favorite is number 2:

Shared information. All the participants must be able to understand, transfer and communicate data, goals, interests, current use levels and all the other parameters needed for understanding the situation.

But if you’re in the midst of a tangled water policy/politics battle, the entire list is essential reading. How many item’s on Wayne’s list does your current water process have? If you don’t have ‘em, it’s unlikely that you’re going to succeed at this, I fear.

A summary of Blomquist’s talk is here (pdf). A book worth reading on all of this is Ostrom’s Governing the Commons.

3 Comments

  1. John, If those eight common sense components are needed to improve the health of the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta then we are likely faced with virtually insurmountable obstacles as the current BDCP process is sadly lacking on all fronts and there seems to be little political will to effect any change.

  2. John and Chris: I was amazed at one of Dr. Blomquist’s opening remarks – along the line of: These 8 elements, in hindsight, seem nothing more than common sense. But you’d be surprised at how many efforts at managing common resources ignore or omit most of them.

    Bottom line is that these elements are NOT common sense items when dealing with many political and social resource issues. Why this is so is the $64,000 question.

    I thank you again, John, for the mention. WAB

Comments are closed.