Monday, April 18, 2011

Conclusion for My Thesis


Ostrom and Rusk have looked at the institutional arrangements that make resource management effective; geography, scope, rules, structural stabilizers, and self-interest. Their general principle is that if an institution isn‘t working, then it must need to be redesigned. For Rusk, a boundary that follows the appropriate geo-political constraints is necessary to prevent the tragedy of the commons. Ostrom‘s counter-point is that it is the institutional arrangements that make it function. For Ostrom the playing field needs to be leveled to allow for a diverse set of voices an equal chance at forming the political decisions while different institutional actors check on other actors‘ power.

In the case of Washoe, Reno, and the Tahoe/Truckee Watershed, these elements are very important, but what Ferman says also holds true: politics matters. Washoe County neatly fits into the arrangements that Ostrom and Rusk have defined, it encompasses a wide geographic area and most institutions are free and open to the public. But those elements don‘t explain developments like Spring Mountain. What can be seen from a fairly objective standpoint as economically dangerous, has been turned into a successful political issue. For that matter, Ostrom and Rusk can‘t explain how WC-3 passed overwhelmingly, but none of its proponents got elected.

Ostrom and Rusk build the playing field, the conditions that the local governments play on to make their decisions. But the game needs players, and arenas show the composition of the teams and how they score points. In Reno, the team that supports sustainable policies is underweight and underfunded—not to mention that the strategy is weak.

Given that information, we can see the political and institutional back and forth that occurs. Some institutions are not prone to change quickly. The Western Mentality that the water is as endless as the sky and the land is pervasive and ingrained, but the appropriate political forces can force some changes. As much as developers have tended to have a home field advantage, VSG was able to get WC-3 passed, changing the rules slightly.

To some extent this is a critique on the mantra of sustainability. No one encountered during the interview process didn‘t have a strong conception of the philosophy of sustainability or fail to see its advantages. But as much as the development community, the politicians, the activists, and bureaucrats wanted to implement such projects, they all lamented their limitations in a political context. So the region continues to run on its own momentum; sustainability remains the philosophy, development by habit its nasty addiction.

To promote Eisinger‘s economic development, it is imperative to politically arrange within the institutional structures in the way that manages the common-pool effectively. By forming political coalitions, durable relationships with a diverse set of interests, the tragedy of the commons can be avoided. Currently, every arena is dominated by a fairly homogenous group: the bureaucrats dictate the RPA, the politicians manage the RPGB, the developers own the economy, and local activists have the public arena.

But these institutions are not created equal. Dominance in the political and economic institutions has a disproportionate voice in shaping the region‘s future. The institutions exist but the outcomes that Rusk and Ostrom predicted didn‘t come to fruition. The lack of political will to change the structure, function, or composition will continue to perpetuate the same outcomes until the Truckee is depleted.

The necessary reforms lie in restructuring the mindsets of the ‗enemies‘. Connections matter. Atlanta was able to see resurgence in its downtown through the right combination of activism and economic coordination through businesses. Finding the political will to manage the future of the area effectively will not be easy. Currently, the odds are stacked in favor of the incumbent team; the wealthy, well-connected growth machine still sees the limitless west, and finds that the current system is in line with the black ink in their books.

If a VSG-like group really wants a lasting impact on the management of water in the region, it needs to find permanent long-lasting relationships with diverse interests. Everyone has a very real stake in effective resource management in the region. Developer Greg Peek lives in Reno and expressed his appreciation for the region‘s issues, ―I go to the grocery store with these people, I don‘t want to make a development that everyone hates…of course I have a stake in the water here, we all do (Peek, 2009).‖
Ultimately it‘s not a game of winners and losers, Ostrom and Rusk both acknowledge that their institutional structures center on creating a collaborative framework within arenas of governance. The tragedy of the commons is a cautionary tale of a game where everyone loses; the proverbial saying in the West, ―whiskey‘s for drinking, and water‘s for fighting‖ is all too portentous without a sense of shared fate. The question still remains; can the Washoe region avoid the tragedy of the commons and manage its water resources effectively?

The answer lies in how everyone with a stake decides to face the truths that water rights will run out, water will be a scarce commodity, and the area will not be able to do what it has done. That day could conceivably come within 30 years. The new question is not a matter of can, but how will the Washoe region avoid the tragedy of the commons and manage its water resources effectively?