I attended this past week the Governor's Conference on the Future of Water in Kansas that was held in Manhattan, Kansas. This event, billed as the Governor's first Conference on Water, was actually combined with the former Kansas State University Water and the Future of Kansas Conference which has been conducted every year for the past 28 years. This event was renamed and reformatted a bit. Nevertheless, just a tad over 500 other people attended as well.
The Governor's comments were heartening although daunting. He said he wants to reduce water use in Kansas from the Ogallala Aquifer so as to extend its economic life, while also maintaining or even increasing the economic productivity of the lesser water used. Much of the conference the first day was aimed at how should we be trying to get this done.
One of the talks was by Dr. Bill Blomquist from Indiana University on managing a common pool resource. He said there are 8 more-or-less common, or universal elements to any successful, long-lived approach to managing common pool resources - be they fisheries, forests, fields or WATER. They are:
1. Clearly defined boundaries. Boundaries can be simple, or multi-layered and sophisticated, but they must be clear;
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.
3. Leadership. A consistent level of stakeholder group direction that is knowledgeable and has a commensurate level of expertise - both social and technical - is necessary. This leadership must allow the group to realize the problem, dedicate to its solution, find and secure necessary resources and then address it.
4. Development and articulation of rules. Who can participate; Who sits at the table and who doesn't; how do decisions get made; all have to be defined and understood.
5. Monitoring and enforcement processes. Everyone must know the rules and know the consequences.
6. Graduated penalties. Arrangements must be made for conflict resolution and opportunities must be provided to complain, communicate and vent. The penalties need to be fair, and graduated such that initial errors are not akin to taking one's firstborn.
7. Nested institutions and creating an enabling work environment. Local, regional and state entities should have a role and play a part in the solutions, but the locals need to play the most significant part as they are the affected ones.
8. How do we know if it works? Any effort should plan on getting evaluated and should retain sufficient flexibility. Creating a process that can accept new data and knowledge and adjust, is important.
For those of us having gone through the SD-6 Enhanced Management Process (a mini common pool groundwater resource) it was like a very bright light bulb getting turned on in the night. This was exactly how we approached the SD-6 effort. Kind of makes one feel like we now have a chance at a successful, long-lived process. We'll have to wait and see.
Probably the best informed readers will recognize this as primarily the work of Elinor Ostrom, the 2009 Nobel prize winning economist (shared with Oliver Williamson) most recently at Indiana University (Dr. Blomquist so credited his remarks). As it turns out, Mrs. Ostrom was originally contacted by the Kansas Water Office to make this presentation, but had to decline due to a conflict in the dates. Sadly, Elinor Ostrom passed away soon thereafter, on June 12, 2012.