Victor B. Flatt


Jim Salzman's Thirst. A Short History of Drinking Water tells a remarkable story about how we have managed one of the most important substances in our lives, and through its historical tales, may also point to a way to think not only about water management, but also about the management of all kinds of resources - a management strategy that is not defined by the resource, but instead, the resource's ultimate use.

Up until this time, those who study environmental pollution have generally focused on resource management (and in this I include resources that can be despoiled by pollution, such as clean air) based on the resource itself, i.e. how should we best manage water, or air, or animals, or land generally. With many of these natural resources, management strategies have been driven by concerns of common overuse - the tragedy of the commons.

Thus, much of the legal analysis of resource use has focused on how to correct the commons problem so that we all get appropriate economic signals to avoid overuse. In the environmental law arena, the market's failure to internalize costs, which results in the tragedy of the commons, is given as the main justification for government intervention into the private marketplace - we have to control how much pollution one can put into the commons because the polluters have no incentive to do so themselves. We have to choose the best management strategy to correct this market problem. Many of us have grappled with theories of which kind of intervention would best correct the overuse of resources. One of the most important contributors to this field is Professor Carol Rose, who has analyzed various methods of pollution-control strategies and drew conclusions about intervention choice based on the overall pressure faced by a resource. Importantly, she focused us not just on the effect a strategy would have on the resource itself, but its costs for the regulated community and costs for the government to enforce the strategy.