Elinor Ostrom on water management and creating #institutions

walk 5 energy reservoir near refugi d'Amitges 811

(Reservoir near Rifugio d’Amitges, Pyrenees, 2011)

Elinor Ostrom tells the story of competitive water pumping from groundwater basins around Los Angeles area in the early 20th century: [I]ndividuals caught in a pumping race will … pump as much as is privately profitable and ignore the consequence for themselves and others.

However, in the 40s and 50s, These groundwater pumpers invested heavily in the supply of institutions. They created new private associations. They paid for costly litigation to allocate water rights. They drafted legislation, had it introduced to the state legislature, and gained sufficient support from other water enterprises to get the legislation passed. They created special districts to tax all the water they withdrew from the basins, as well as the property overlying the area.

A little while later, efforts in the Mojave Water Agency area failed. Even when individuals have considerable capabilities to engage in self-governance, there is no guarantee that solutions to all problems will be achieved. Individuals who do not have similar images of the problems they face, who do not work out mechanisms to disaggregate complex problems into subparts, and who do not recognize the legitimacy of diverse interests are unlikely to solve their problems even when the institutional means to do so are available to them.

Elinor Ostrom, Governing the Commons – the evolution of institutions for collective action, 1990

I am re-reading Ostrom’s book as we go along. I wonder if she is going to comment on the conditions that lead people to recognize the legitimacy of diverse interests. I think of Bernard Crick’s book on politics, which starts there.

Published by

Paul Hodson

Head of Unit "EnergyEfficiency" at European Commission, Directorate-General for Energy

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