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Governing New Mexico's Water: Lessons from the Commons

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Brown, John R.
Conference: The Commons in an Age of Global Transition: Challenges, Risks and Opportunities, the Tenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Oaxaca, Mexico
Conf. Date: August 9-13
Date: 2004
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1878
Sector: Water Resource & Irrigation
Region: North America
Subject(s): IASC
common pool resources
water resources
collective choice
indigenous institutions
institutional analysis
property rights
Abstract: "New Mexico's diverse Native American and Hispano acequia traditions both inform and complicate the process of crafting institutions for governing the water resources of the state. Before the 20th century, both these cultures (to oversimplify a complex reality) treated their water sources and supplies as commons, governed them at the community level, and made collective decisions about access, uses, and responsibilities of individual users. Near the beginning of the 20th century, the power to decide who had access to a source of water moved to the State Engineer, while determining how water would be used became the province of the individual water right holder, 'hollowing out' the authority of the community to make collective decisions. "In the 21st century, as population pressures collide with physical constraints and management regimes that often fail to protect the rights of senior appropriators, officials are trying to balance conflicting values while introducing greater flexibility and efficiency into procedures to move water from historical to new uses. Water planning processes with strong public participation have raised awareness of issues of institutional design concerning 'active water resource management' -- how much 'market' and how much 'regulation'? "Both collective and autonomous market choices have roles in institutional arrangements that reflect the multiple values of New Mexicans, but in a situation of growing scarcity, collective choices will predominate. Protecting and strengthening mechanisms for collective choice, particularly at the local level, responds to peoples core values, while appropriately structured and regulated markets may allow willing buyers and sellers to transact productive agreements. Negotiation has an important place in a framework for market regulation that accounts for negative externalities of proposed transfers."

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