The Tragedy of the (Water) Commons

Case Solution

Peter Debaere
Darden School of Business ()

If left unattended, natural resources tend to move toward depletion, overuse, deterioration, or contamination. Common pastures are overgrazed; The lakes are overexploited; The rivers are polluted, etc. In the case of water, some may wonder how overuse or depletion is possible given that water is a renewable natural resource. However, there may be practical and local depletion and overexploitation. The reasons for this overuse are often related to the “tragedy of the commons”, a situation in which individual users of a shared resource pursue their own interests without coordination and thus collectively behave in a way that it is not optimal for the resource as a whole. . This note explores the concept of the tragedy of the commons in relation to water, paying special attention to the effects of the state of water as an unprotected and freely accessible resource.

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