Tuesday, June 12, 2012

RIP Elinor Ostrom, 1933-2012

The resource management/economics/political science community said farewell to one of the true innovative thinkers of the past century today.  Elinor Ostrom, Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Nobel Prize winner in economics (the first woman to do so), and co-founder and Senior Research Fellow at the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, passed away this morning in Bloomington, IN.

What is the interest of a hydrogeologist and attorney in a political scientist with a strong economics pedigree?  Well, the ground-breaking work that brought Dr. Ostrom into my realm of professional knowledge and a big part of what earned her a Nobel Prize was her work on defining the role of informal, local institutions in overcoming the Tragedy of the Commons.  One of her foundational research projects was on the importance of such institutions to effective governance of groundwater basins that functioned as common pool resources, but were managed through local informal institutions that prevented the theoretical negative outcome predicted by ToC.  This important observational work (Dr. Ostrom was well-known for taking theory and supporting/refuting it through actual field observations) has informed many of my views on the preferred methods of governance for groundwater systems.  My own career owes a huge debt to her work.

Her brilliance will live on in her work and the countless academics and practitioners who have followed in her footsteps.  Farewell.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Colorado Considers Adopting Public Trust Doctrine?

I came across this link courtesy of Aquadoc's Weekly Round-up of water news.  Seems a few people in Colorado are dissatisfied with their current system of reasonably secure property rights in the use of the state's water.  They are placing initiatives on the ballot later this year that would formally adopt a strong public trust doctrine.  The texts of the proposed initiatives can be found here and here.  Essentially what this would do is still allow you to have your water rights - whether derived from prior appropriation or whatever.  But those rights would always be subject to rights of the state to protect the water on behalf of the people.  So if someone decides that a world-class trout fishery is more important to the state than a valley full of farmers, the state could step in (theoretically) and tell the farmers to stop diverting water for irrigation so that the trout stream can thrive.  This is a concept that exists in many places but only rarely has it been found to trump existing property rights.  In this case, the wording of the initiative states pretty clearly that the public trust is superior to private property rights.  I don't see this going very far.