Just yesterday, I got an update on the product's success ("saving" water at a cost of about $200/af, details to come) in Texas and Turkey. How is it, I thought, that those places have put this product into use while California managers seems to be paralyzed in the face of the developing disaster?
Assuming they want to act, I came up with three scenarios in which they can take action:
- Power: water managers in some places can just get stuff done because they can overcome interest groups trying to block or control change ("a tragedy of anti-commons"). I'd put managers at Metropolitan or Westlands in this category.
- Autonomy: water managers only answer to themselves, so they can do what they want because their actions do not affect others. I'd put managers in many small utilities in this category.*
- Desperation: water managers facing service cuts can basically scare overseers and stakeholders into action. This is how Santa Barbara managers raised prices to $27/ccf (and saw a 50 percent fall in use) during the last big drought.
Bottom Line: Water managers don't just need freedom of action to protect customers from service failures. They need to be brave enough to lead everyone away from old, failed policies.
* They tend NOT to act because they often lack the expertise to study options or desire to get ahead (sometimes too far ahead) of the big guys.
** You know, like raising prices to get people to use less water instead of building a desalination plant in the hope that new supplies would be sufficient to meet "out of control" demand.