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The end of abundance: How water bureaucrats created and destroyed the southern California oasis

David Zetland
Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of California, Berkeley, US

ABSTRACT: This paper describes how water bureaucrats shaped Southern California's urban development and put the region on a path of unsustainable growth. This path was popular and successful until the supply shocks of the 60s, 70s and 80s made shortage increasingly likely. The drought of 1987-€“1991 revealed that the norms and institutions of abundance were ineffective in scarcity. Ever since then, Southern California has teetered on the edge of shortage and economic and social disruption. Despite the risks of business as usual, water bureaucrats, politicians and developers continue to defend a status quo management strategy that serves their interests but not those of citizens. Professional norms, control of the discourse, and insulation from outside pressure slow or inhibit the adoption of management techniques suitable to scarcity. Pressure from increasing population and politically and environmentally destabilised supplies promise to make rupture more likely and more costly.

KEYWORDS: Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, abundance, scarcity, institutions, California