Conflict Research Consortium BOOK SUMMARY

Dividing the Waters: Governing Groundwater in Southern California


William Blomquist


Blomquist, William. Dividing the Waters: Governing Groundwater in Southern California, , (California: ICS Press, 1992), 402 pp.

This book summary written by: T. A. O'Lonergan, Conflict Research Consortium.

Dividing the Waters: Governing Groundwater in Southern California is an examination of the governance of groundwater in California. The issues addressed are common to all watersheds in the Western United States.

Dividing the Waters: Governing Groundwater in Southern California will be of interest to those who seek to understand groundwater management in the West. This work is divided into three parts, the first of which addresses the assertion that there is not order in the governance of groundwater in California, but rather chaos. This allegation stems from the practice of leaving the management of watersheds to local authorities. The author asserts that rather than chaos, the management groundwater in California is polycentric.

Blomquist devotes chapter two to a discussion of the characteristics and value of groundwater basins. The author next provides descriptions of four California watersheds: the San Gabriel River watershed, the Los Angeles River watershed, the Santa Ana River watershed and the Mojave River watershed. The final chapter of the first part of the book addresses water development and water law in Southern California. Integral to the understanding of water development in this region is an understanding of its Mediterranean climate. Blomquist presents the consequences for watersheds of such a climate. He also examines the increasing demands placed upon scarce and seasonally available water by the steady and explosive growth in southern California since the late 1800s.

The second part of the book is devoted to an examination of eight cases which illustrate institutional design and development of water in California. The author presents the litigation, and the development and legislative efforts aimed at governance of: the Raymond Basin, the West Basin,the Central Basin, the main San Gabriel Basin, the San Fernando Basin, the Mojave River Basins, the Chino Basin and Orange County. In the final part of the book the author offers his evaluation of how well the polycentric system of governance of groundwater performs and compares it to what one might expect with a more centralized system of governance. He concludes that the present polycentric system is preferable to a more centralized system. Blomquist asserts that the multiplicity of local institutions which govern water in California are human artifacts which are the result of human action directed toward intentional problem solving under constraint. The author asserts that the evolved system of water management in California requires a facilitative political regime rather than an administrative one. The final chapter examines the relationship among polycentricity, entrepreneurship and performance and concludes with the assertion that entrepreneurship is critical for the development of a polycentric system and for the innovation necessary for continued acceptable performance. Dividing the Waters: Governing Groundwater in Southern California is a careful examination and defense of the present decentralized system of watershed management in California. While focused upon that state, the book is useful in understanding and developing watershed and basin management in the Western United States as a whole.