Tuesday, September 27, 2011

V515x3 Water Wins and Water Woes

Issues of water conservation and sustainable use are fairly well ingrained in my intellectual background and environmental consciousness as both my parents and my boss have been intimately involved with these.

Water and Nukes in 1979

Though they've rarely made a big deal about it, my parent's were involved in the 1979 protests of the Black Fox Nuclear Power plant, set to be built in Inola, Oklahoma.  Many people were part of these protests, so my folks probably didn't see their role as being very large or impacting.  But, to me, it was and always has been.  Social activism in pursuit of social justice, equity, and sustainable practices has been something I've always admired, so to think of my parents having enough conviction about this issue to stand-up and protest makes me pretty proud of them (although I'm already proud of them for a number of reasons).  What's more, it was only last week that I shared with them information they were unaware of: their contribution, and those of their fellows, was greatly significant because " It is believed to be the only nuclear power plant in the US to be canceled by a combination of legal and citizen action after construction had started" [1].  What's more, my parents were journalists at the time and my mom wrote an editorial that specifically addressed the detrimental, local impact that such a nuclear power plant would have on the already strained community water supply. 

Nobel Beginnings
Some of Lin Ostrom's earliest work involved her attempt to understand how certain water systems in California could be managed cooperatively, when water is often treated as a common pool resource.  Though this work predated her innovative theories about the management of common pool resources, I think that this problem was one of the first to grab her interest in the topic and set the stage for a passionate, productive, and dedicated career.  Additionally, her work on this - in the late 1960s and early 1970s - sought to meet a challenge that Roseland outlines in this week's readings: "One of the greatest barriers is the departmentalization of city, municipal or regional water and wastewater services...IntegratedWater Planning...requires inter-governmental cooperation and strives for multiple-purpose and multiple-means projcects" (70).  This sort of inter-governmental cooperation is the very basis of the theory of "polycentric governance" that she and her husband Vince developed and promoted for decades.  These selections are fairly illustrative:

“Legal and Political Conditions of Water Resource Development” (with Vincent Ostrom). Land Economics 48 (February 1972): 1–14. Reprinted in: Michael McGinnis, ed., Polycentric Governance and Development: Readings from the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999, pp. 42–59).

“Does Local Community Control of Police Make a Difference? Some Preliminary Findings” (with Gordon Whitaker). American Journal of Political Science 17 (February 1973): 48–76. Reprinted in: Michael McGinnis, ed., Polycentricity and Local Public Economies: Readings from the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999, pp. 176–202). 

“Do We Really Want to Consolidate Urban Police Forces? A Reappraisal of Some Old Assumptions” (with Gordon Whitaker and Roger Parks). Public Administration Review 33 (September/October 1973): 423–33.

Social Marketing Revisited
The examples, above, have consistently reinforced, to me, the idea that local, community action is fundamentally necessary for achieving sustainable water-management solutions, because those closest to the situation are the most invested, have the most to lose, and have the most to gain.  However, I feel that the Roseland reading indirectly conflicts with this: though some of the examples of sustainable water & wastewater management involved community action and public-private partnerships, I feel that most of the examples were based around projects that were spearheaded by government mandates; what's worse, I feel like many of the examples sung the praises of the effectiveness of educational programs...which is somewhat contrary to the results in the social science literature that Doug McKenzie-Mohr cites in Fostering Sustainable Behavior.  My sense, then, is that combinations of strategies work much better than single strategies of government enforcement, local initiative, or education, alone.  But my overriding question is this: are there any patterns of best practices or common elements that obtain in each of these cases of successful, innovative, sustainable water management?  Social science could do the practitioner community a lot of good if this question could be answered; and though Ostrom has gone a long way toward helping this, refining her theories to address some of these specific instances of water management - in situations where water is not treated as a common-pool resource -would really advance the cause.


  1. I agree that combinations of strategies is likely more effective than one at a time- but I would imagine that the particularities of place would determine an effective combination, though. It would be great to an all-purpose pattern. It seems to me some trends include: work toward something positive (rather than away from something negative), engage community (create ownership and social capital), and interpret the benefits as larger than the costs...

    Birds are giving me moon eyes outside my window, asking me to fill the feeder. Gotta run.

  2. I agree - combinations of the strategies we discussed would probably be best, and would work differently under different circumstances. Strategies would need to be tailored to the city's particular culture in order to be most effective.

    I also really like your example about your parents. I love to hear anecdotes about people sticking it to the proverbial man and winning for the environment. :)

  3. First off, Jen G.....hahaha!!! Secondly while I am not expert myself, I think that compbination strategies work the best as well. However, as far as I know, there haven't been predetermined patterns for water managment that lead to water sustainability. I think that tailoring your approach to a given area would prove to be most effective.

  4. Hey Ryan – A few thoughts on your most recent blog:

    1. I think you probably are aware that nuclear power is a cleaner and more efficient power source compared to traditional power sources. Are you against nuclear power in general or just in this scenario?

    2. I agree that implementing a combination of strategies is most likely to be successful when taking on entirely new types of problems. It’s difficult to predict which strategy will ultimately succeed in the end. Speaking of nuclear power, a good example of this multi-strategy approach is the invention of the atomic bomb. Scientists working on the Manhattan project invented a variety of different methods for enriching uranium. Because none of these methods had ever been tried before, and because time was at a premium, three different methods were employed simultaneously. In the end, they were able to learn which method worked best and then allocate their resources accordingly.

    3. I also noticed that Roseland’s strategies for water conservation were almost entirely government sponsored. I wish more people would realize that our government is out of money. We can’t continue to subsidize and tax our way to sustainability. More creative solutions are necessary.

  5. @Brian: Excellent question and points.

    (1) I'm actually ambivalent about the nuclear power option. Though there have been great improvements in the efficiency and safety of nuclear power production, events like the recent tragedies in Japan make me feel like their use should be subject to even tighter and more meticulous regulation than it already is, which is already a lot. This might seem to be bordering on the unreasonable, but I guess the analysis would consider weather the efficiency gains from the power generation would outweigh the regulatory burden and the probabilities of various risk-management hazards. Sigh.

    (2) Awesome, yet darkly-humorous example. I should hope that innovations in sustainable resource management would be far-enough away from basic-research to avoid any potentially malicious applications of the innovations generated by combined strategies...but, then again, crazy super-bugs or dangerous organic chemicals could quite possibly be an eventuality of experimentation with biological systems (water treatment, et al.).

    (3) Agreed, agreed, agreed. I think everyone could stand to be more aware of resource scarcity.

  6. Great role models, Ryan.

    Some nuclear power plants died from economic causes, including this one in Indiana: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marble_Hill_Nuclear_Power_Plant

    Since you are reading Bill McDonough this week:

    In response to a question on why some green thinkers neglect to mention nuclear energy as a viable renewable energy source, William McDonough said: "Don't get me wrong: I love nuclear energy! It's just that I prefer fusion to fission. And it just so happens that there's an enormous fusion reactor safely banked a few million miles from us. It delivers more than we could ever use in just about 8 minutes. And it's wireless!" Quote from 2006 Fortune Brainstorm conference in Aspen, CO, via ::Z+Blog, via ::Open the Future.