02 September 2011

Information, markets and bureaucracy

Mike Pease writes:
I just finished creating a user-friendly Geo-spatial Water Rights database for a small portion of the Yakima River Basin (as you probably know, the basin is finishing a long adjudication).

I thought you might find the project interesting. One of the questions I'm trying to evaluate is whether such tools can lead to more efficient water usage by reducing information asymmetries. I'd love to hear what you think.

Here's what I've been emailing out:

Kittitas Valley Water Resource Decision Support System Stakeholder Survey

Hello, my name is Michael Pease and I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Geography at Central Washington University. As part of a Department of Agriculture grant, I have created a water resource decision support system (WRDSS) for the Kittitas Valley. I am now seeking participation in a survey to elicit feedback on the DSS to assess its utility for individual stakeholders and water management institutions.

This survey consists of two sections and will take roughly ten minutes to complete. First, you will be asked a short series of questions concerning the current state of water use in the Kittitas Valley. In the second section, you will be asked to evaluate the draft WRDSS.

[privacy disclaimer deleted]
I am impressed by this project and the data it captures. I'd like to see some representation of relations between different water users (e.g., highlight all devices using the same water source), historic trends (are recent diversions higher or lower than historic averages?), and probably a number of other items.

More importantly, these data are only useful in context. I couldn't do the survey because I lack a contextual understanding of the relations between actual and potential water use (let alone the drivers of decisions to use water).

That's not necessarily an issue when total water demand is constrained within supply (sustainable) and people are free to negotiate re-allocations to improve efficiency (markets), but it is a HUGE issue if some bureaucracy is trying to find the "right" allocation per device, i.e., the Knowledge Problem.

Bottom Line: More information is useful if it allows individuals to improve their decision-making, but probably not when bureaucrats are trying to manage everything.

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