" Once famed for its salmon runs, the river is now controlled in many parts by dams that help to supply electricity to western cities, and also feed reservoirs for agriculture. In other words there is considerable competition for the same water resources, each possible use serving to prejudice another. Among the many scenarios proposed for alleviating the complex problems arising from this situation have been the creation of a water bank, and the issuing of permits that allow for water to be treated as a commodity in much the same way as emissions would be in an emissions credit scheme (Benson 2005). In the Los Angeles area in the first half of the Twentieth Century, a classic example of a "tragedy of the commons" ensued as developers rushed to pump out ancient aquifers before they became contaminated by seawater (Choe 2004). The story of Los Angeles' quest for ever more water created a chain of self-interest that redounded to the detriment of all. At bottom lies the competition for water in essentially desert environment. Technology made possible the creation of a large urban agglomeration in a place that otherwise would not have been able to support any sizeable human population. The more the urban area expanded, the greater the pressure to continue the expansion, and so the demand for more and more water. The more water that was pumped from the aquifer the closer it came to sea level and eventual high salinity. The private profit motives that grew out of the business of supplying water led finally to the ridiculous race to pump the water before it became to salty to use. More recently, water has continued to be treated as an industrial commodity in America's arid West. The California Drought Water Bank, established in 1991, represents an attempt to bring order out of the chaos of privatization of water rights and resources. The Bank purchases and sells water by volume, the water being collected from agricultural land that is set aside for the purpose (Zilberman 2003).
Water use is carefully monitored and managed with an eye also toward environmental concerns. The preponderance of self-interest in water allocation is thus greatly reduced.
Projects like the California Water Bank and the ill-fated Kyoto Accord demonstrate, on different levels, attempts to prevent a tragedy of the commons. Different groups - individuals, states, and nations - come together to manage scarce resources that otherwise have been given over to private ownership and management. Private ownership of common property, even if that property is held in common, leads almost inevitable to the usage of that property being governed by the dictates of self-interest. Individuals and groups exploit resources for their own maximum benefit. As populations increase thereby increasing demand for those resources, the resource in question is eventually depleted to the point where it is usable by no one. All lose because all have tried to benefit without concern for the needs of others. Organizations that cut across personal and jurisdictional lines; treaties and agreements that set up systems of joint allocation with environmental safeguards help to manage natural resource sin ways that are mutually beneficial to all humanity. The Earth is a finite place. Many resources will disappear completely once they are used up. The biosphere is a complex web of relationships in which one element affects many others. Human beings must learn to "herd" the treasures of their planet, to manage them as they would their own private wealth - so that these commodities remain available to future generations. Life must go on, but to do so, men and women must look to the future.
Benson, Reed D. 2005. "The Supreme Court of Science" Speaks on Water Rights: The National Academy of Sciences Columbia River Report and Its Water Policy Implications. Environmental Law 35, no. 1: 85+.
Choe, Olivia S. 2004. Appurtenancy Reconceptualized: Managing Water in an Era of Scarcity. Yale Law Journal 113, no. 8: 1909+.
Daniels, Brigham. 2007. Emerging Commons and Tragic Institutions. Environmental Law 37, no. 3: 515+.
Desombre, Elizabeth R. 2004. Global Warming: More Common Than Tragic. Ethics & International Affairs 18, no. 1: 41+.
Gardiner, Stephen M. 2004. The Global Warming Tragedy and the Dangerous Illusion of the Kyoto Protocol. Ethics & International Affairs 18, no. 1: 23+.
Stewart, Richard B., and Jonathan B. Wiener. 2004. Practical Climate Change Policy: A Sensible Middle-of-the-Road Alternative Exists between the Defective Kyoto Protocol and Do-Nothing Policy. Issues in Science and Technology, Wntr, 71+.
Zilberman, David. 2003. Water Marketing in California and the West. International Journal of Public Administration 26, no. 3: 291+.