Monday, November 5, 2012

Managing a Common Pool Resource

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.


  1. That's a pretty good 2nd choice. Dr. Blomquist was a student of Dr. Ostrom's and has written a couple of pretty good books on groundwater governance. Let me know if any papers or presentations from the conference are posted anywhere.

    1. Chris: Is there anyone you DON'T know?? :)

      The talk is posted on the Kansas Water Office website here:

      It is the second presentation listed.

      Thanks for the comment. After reading the post again it kind of reads like I didn't know that Dr. Blomquist studied under Dr. Ostrom and is an expert in his own right. For this I apologize, I also thank you for mentioning it - an appropriate gesture on your part. Hope the link works for you. Wayne.

  2. Whoa! That was a busy conference. Going thru that list of presentations could keep me occupied for a while. Anything besides Bill Blomquist that really jumped out for you?

    1. Chris:

      There were several presentations that gave me a new perspective. Most notably was the KGS presentation on hydraulic fracturing. It was ever so slightly less pro-industry than the last time I heard it, so I get the impression they are a tad bit more concerned than before. They still support the energy opportunities in Kansas, but may be more receptive to the potential for groundwater mining and contamination. The Governor's comments were well received as well. It was also a great time to network with all the players in Kansas water. All in all, it was well worth the time and effort. Of course, our GMD's new LEMA efforts were recognized several times - even by Dr, Blomquist. Later. WAB

  3. Wayne - Nice summary. Doing my part to try to make sure this list is required reading in the water community:

    1. John: Thank you very much. Whenever you mention any of my blog posts, my traffic counter shows the effects. I appreciate it very much, and will endeavor to return the favor when I can. Our LEMA management effort has been consuming much of my time over the past 2 years and continues to do so today. Thanks again.

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