Appropriation problems

Appropriation problems are highly local compared to provision problems. They stem from actions and choices of appropriators whose effects become apparent within a short time frame, such as during an irrigation season.5 Assignment problems, for instance, occur because people compete to use the most productive patches of a CPR and in the process they interfere with one another's harvesting activities. People may place wells too closely together, reducing the productive capacity of each of the wells. Technological externalities occur because the different harvesting techniques that people use interfere with one another. A high-capacity well may create a cone of depression that dries up surrounding shallow tube wells (Dubash, 2002).

Effectively and equitably addressing assignment problems and technological externalities requires considerable time and place information. Working knowledge of the types of technologies used, location of wells, uses made of the water, landholding patterns, actions causing the harvesting conflicts and so forth are necessary if rules that match a specific setting are to be devised. Such local knowledge resides with water users and not regulators. Shah (1993, pp. 129-132) notes the numerous difficulties regulators external to local communities have in devising effective rules. A common approach to address assignment problems is to impose well spacing rules. The rules only apply to more modern technologies, such as electric and diesel pumps, thus failing to afford any protection for more traditional technologies. Also, well spacing rules are enforced through banks that will not provide capital for the purchase of pumps unless well spacing rules are followed.6 Farmers who can raise sufficient capital without relying on a bank can avoid well spacing rules.

Groundwater users can determine the causes and effects of spacing wells too close together or of allowing high-capacity wells to be situated among traditional water-lifting devices. Well owners and others who are dependent on those wells for water face incentives to problem-solve in order to protect their water sources. Depending on the social ties among groundwater users and experiences that they have had in engaging in other collective efforts, they may pursue strategies or undertake collective efforts to address assignment problems and technological externalities. For instance, Shah cites several examples of groundwater users effectively addressing such problems among themselves:

The owners of grape orchards in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, for instance, are known to buy up neighbouring lots at premium prices to solve the problem of interference . . . in many parts of Gujarat, where localized water markets have assumed highly sophisticated forms, it is common for a well owner to lay underground pipelines through neighbours' fields at his own cost, and dissuade them from establishing their own wells by informal long-term contracts for the supply of water at mutually agreed prices.

Appropriation externalities result from overuse of CPRs in the short term. Appropriation externalities in groundwater may often be spatially and temporally confined, allowing closely situated groundwater users to learn about the effects of pumping on water tables and on one another's pumping activities. That learning can form the basis for developing locally devised solutions to appropriation externalities.7 For instance, Sadeque (2000) examines the development of water access and allocation rules to address appropriation externalities that emerge during the dry season in Bangladesh. Domestic water uses are provided for through shallow hand pumps. During the dry season, when groundwater demand is quite high, especially to irrigate the winter rice crop, the hand pumps dry up, leaving many households without a reliable and convenient source of water. As Sadeque (2000, p. 277) notes: 'In the competition for groundwater, simple, low-cost technologies like hand tube wells, used mostly for drinking and other domestic users, lose out. The perception of affected people of the low water table areas as victims of water deprivation is becoming marked, with acrimony towards irrigation'.

In a study of two villages in northwestern Bangladesh, Sadeque (2000) found conflict between domestic users and irrigators to be widespread during the dry season. However, he also found instances of cooperation and coordination emerging to address such conflicts. For instance, a series of shallow wells installed by an international non-profit development agency for domestic water uses are carefully governed by the households who participated in their development and who are responsible for their maintenance. During the dry season, the households impose restrictions on water use to tide families over. These restrictions also affect households who did not participate in the well project. While during the wet season non-participating families are not restricted in their access to the wells, during the dry season their access and use is strictly limited. They are allowed water after the households who govern the wells have their needs met. In addition, cooperation is emerging between villagers and owners of irrigation wells. Irrigation well owners allow villagers to take water from wells to meet basic consumption and cooking needs. Also, some well owners operate wells during early morning hours for the express use of villagers' domestic water needs. Sadeque (2000, p. 286) argues that such cooperation has emerged as a means of avoiding government regulation: 'People realized that negotiation was better than having controls imposed by central and distant authorities which might not be in the interest of either party. Additionally, regulations would result in bureaucratic control and therefore encourage corruption'.

In general, appropriation problems tend to be local in nature. Furthermore, the specific types of problems that emerge and their causes tend to be highly dependent on configurations of factors unique to each situation. Consequently, workable solutions are usually those grounded in specific time and place information - information that is readily available to groundwater users, but not to regulators. In addition, groundwater users often face incentives to invest in collaborative attempts to resolve such problems. Coordination may yield substantial benefits. Thus, compared with provision problems, which will be discussed later, communities are more likely to address appropriation problems.

It is not uncommon in the emerging literature on groundwater and irrigation to find instances of groundwater users addressing appropriation problems or having the capacity to address such problems. For instance, Shah (1993) describes a village in Junagadh district, Gujarat, in which numerous irrigation wells dry up during the dry season. Shah (1993) notes that farmers have a good understanding of how their wells function, and pursue a variety of strategies to ensure water availability throughout the dry period, but with mixed success. Some farmers are more innovative than others and appear to have developed approaches that are relatively successful. Shah (1993, pp. 164-165) argues that with a little assistance, primarily in the form of information, such as location and productivity of wells over time and various successful strategies that some farmers pursue, farmers could develop collective strategies to address appropriation problems and thereby increase agriculture productivity.

Appropriation problems that emerge in groundwater aquifers may be more manageable for irrigators because they exhibit some of the resource attributes identified by Ostrom (2001). Owners of closely situated wells, for instance, may readily realize the effect that their pumping has on one another as water levels in their wells decline under heavy pumping and begin to recover as they reduce their abstractions (attribute 2 - indicators; attribute 3 - predictability). In other words, it is possible through experience and careful observation to determine the onset and causes of appropriation problems.

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