Grazing the Non-Commons
Central Texas is having its worst drought in 50 years, and since May we have been limited to twice-a-week lawn watering. With things getting worse, on August 24 the limit goes to once per week. I’ll abide by the limit, but I’ll set my sprinklers to run longer each session than during the twice-a-week watering. I’m sure I’m not alone; and thus these private actions will partly undo the restrictions.
We all take water out of a common pool, but the water is not a public good — each of us uses it up. The local paper is trying to solve the shortage by publishing the names of the biggest residential users and shaming them. I doubt this will help. The problem could readily be solved by pricing the water sufficiently high to ensure that we get through the drought with water to spare. Indeed, that’s what a free market would do. Unfortunately, Austin hasn’t seen fit to mimic free-market pricing of this increasingly scarce resource.