3.3.07

MANAGING A COMMON PROPERTY. West of the Great Lakes watershed, aquifer management is not simply a matter of watching your own well. City Barbs considers the Care and Feeding of Aquifers.
How cities can really mess it up for the country cousins is by allowing too much development in local recharging areas, where the water needs to get into the ground to replenish the aquifer. Some of our recharging areas lie west and north of DeKalb, into other counties and another state or two, but at least one local shallow aquifer could be affected by residential development that is pushing DeKalb’s boundaries to the west. We don’t know yet. What we do know is that recharge areas need to be part of local comprehensive planning to ensure that by and large they remain farmland, wetlands or other types of green spaces.
Perhaps such comprehensive planning is administratively easier than attempting to establish ownership of the water by methods other than the rule of capture.
Where DeKalb is said to have “competition” is in sharing the deep bedrock aquifers with other cities that are drawing from same. But is that really competition? If we’re all using the same aquifers and the levels drop, we’re all sunk. Sounds like a job for a regional planning authority to me–perhaps the 11-county Regional Water Supply Planning Group for northeastern Illinois, which just got started on its tasks?
Yes, it really is competition. But under the rule of capture, the dominant strategy for each jurisdiction drawing water from the same aquifer is to draw the water down before somebody else does. That's precisely the Nash equilbrium of a one-off tragedy of the commons game, and when the commons is depleted, yes, "we're all sunk."

I submit, though, that a planning group will not forestall a tragedy of the commons without careful thought about the incentives.

We must distinguish between a drought and a water shortage. A drought may or may not lead to a shortage, but is more likely if the water supply is already stressed. In coming years of growth, shortages may happen in the absence of drought if we’re careless.

Before planning begins, we also have to select what type(s) of drought to plan for. There are four types: meteorological, agricultural, hydrological and socioeconomic. (If you want the fine print, the link will bring you to a good, quick overview.) The range of usage priorities and other management strategies we end up with are dependent on the sort of drought(s) we want to prepare for.

The linked site is worth visiting: it speaks of "shortages" without once considering prices. Here's its description of a "socioeconomic drought."
Socioeconomic drought occurs when the demand for an economic good exceeds supply as a result of a weather-related shortfall in water supply. The supply of many economic goods, such as water, forage, food grains, fish, and hydroelectric power, depends on weather. Due to variability of climate, water supply is sufficient in some years but not satisfactory to meet human and environmental needs in other years. The demand for economic goods is increasing as a result of increasing population. Supply may also increase because of improved production efficiency and technology.
The concept of a futures market for water might strike readers as odd in the extreme, but it's exactly the institution to transfer water consumption from years of abundant rainfall to years of rainfall shortfall. Short of that, the introductory economics notion of rationing by price, which induces consumers to rethink the "needs" they seek to "meet", offers a corrective to a shortage.

No comments: