This article is an extract from the ‘Commons in South East Europe: Cases of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Macedonia’ study, published by the Institute for Political Ecology in Zagreb, in spring 2018. The study aims to contribute to the debate on commons in the region, and it consists of two parts: 1) a theoretical part written by Tomislav Tomašević and 2) case studies and cases of struggles for the commons, written by local authors, which we will be publishing here individually in a few separate articles. To read the entire study, please follow the link above.
Author: Alma Midžić
DESCRIPTION OF THE GOVERNING PRACTICE
History of the local water supply system Luke began 50 years ago. Luke is also the name of the small village located in central Bosnia, west of the capital Sarajevo. Luke is a subsidiary of the so-called “local community” (“mjesna zajednica”) called Gojevići. The local community as a unit of sub-local self-governance belongs to the Fojnica municipality, which belongs to an even larger administrative unit, Central Bosnia Canton, within the entity of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. According to state law, municipalities are responsible for providing access to safe drinking water to its citizens, but mostly don’t have financial resources, so they usually give informal approval to smaller communities to build their own water supplying systems. During the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, in 1968, a water reservoir with the capacity of only 3 m3 was built for the employees of a psychiatric hospital which was located in the Luke village. Before the hospital was constructed there were just a couple of houses in Luke, but after the construction, accommodation facilities and military objects were built as well. After only a few years of work, the psychiatric hospital was moved to a nearby village, but the village of Luke continued to grow, which meant that the need for running water was increasing. The decision to construct the new water supply network was unanimously made by the “Assembly of Citizens” of Luke in 2007, and the “Committee for the Construction of the Water Supply System” was established. The role of the Committee was to prepare all project documentation and coordinate all construction activities. First, they carried out field research and made inventory of all the water springs in their surroundings and sent water samples for bacteriological and chemical analysis to authorised institutions. After collecting all relevant information, they came to the conclusion that the best option was to rebuild the already existing water supply system infrastructure by improving it. From 2008 to 2009 the reservoir was rebuilt and expanded at the same location, while the pipelines were completely changed, but most of them were installed in the same locations. The new water supply system was financed through a project grant received from the Federal Ministry of Displaced Persons and Refugees and the money which had been equally collected for years from all the households in the Luke village. After the water supply system was finished, the villagers of Luke decided to transform the above-mentioned committee into a new body called the “Water Committee” (Odbor za vodu), which is responsible for all technical issues related to the governance of the water supply system. Villagers of Luke have since then governed their water supply system on their own. Additionally,
they maintain the local cemetery using the same model, and they constructed and maintain the public lighting system in a similar way.
Resource which is being governed as commons is, first of all, the local water supply infrastructure. It consists of a reservoir with the capacity of 50 m3, which is a significant increase compared to the original capacity of 3 m3. The main pipelines go from the reservoir to the end of the village and there is a connection for each of the 42 houses in the village. The total length of the water supply system is approximately 1,5 kilometres. They organised clusters of 5 to 7 houses and installed manholes with water meters, the purpose of which is not to measure the consumption of water in order to charge the service based on water consumption, but to monitor the water supply system so it can be easily determined whether there is a malfunction and a water leak. It has proven to
be a very good technical solution, as they have had several malfunctions which were easily detected and greater damage was avoided. The other resource being governed is water itself. The reservoir was built on the spot of natural freshwater springs, with minimal flow of 1 to 2 litres of water per second. Although bacteriological analysis has shown that it is high quality water, they use chlorine for water disinfection.
Community governing the Luke water supply system as commons is the same as the village Luke community, which means that the whole population of Luke is using the local water supply system. This is a small but very connected community of inhabitants. It is also worth noting that the population is almost doubled in the summer, when many of the former residents who live abroad come to visit. Although it is a small community, they are very well organised and can be easily mobilised for a common objective. An example of this is their 2012 struggle with the civil disobedience guard against the construction of a hydropower plant on the river Željeznica, which lasted for more than 300 days. They recently started another struggle against the gold mining industry, as they are concerned that its toxic waste will pollute water springs. There is an active non-governmental organisation in Luke called “Ekološkohumanitarna udruga Gotuša” (Ecological Humanitarian Association Gotuša), which is a kind of pillar of social action in the village. For example, the local community meeting in 2015, at which the decision for the annual maintenance fee for the water supply system was made, was held in their facilities, and some of its members are also in the Water Committee.
Institutions which were made to govern the Luke water supply system are related to organisations and rules. The main body responsible for monitoring and servicing the local water supply system is the Water Committee, which is elected by the citizens of Luke. The Committee members are usually prominent villagers who also have certain technical expertise related to water, but this is not mandatory. Currently all 5 members are men. In terms of governance rules for managing the resource, there is a general agreement on rational use of water, but they usually don’t have problems with the quantity of water. In case there is a lack of water in the reservoir, they
impose reductions in water use until the situation is normalized. So far, they have been forced to introduce reductions only 4 times, but it also happened when there was a malfunction in the water supply system or for regular cleaning of the reservoir. Reductions usually last from midnight to 6:00 am for several days. There is also an obligation to report excessive water consumption or malfunction in the water supply system. If there is a problem in the water supply, members of the Water Committee go out in the field to find out what the problem is. Most problems are related to malfunctions in the water meters, valves and pipes. There are also rules about financial contributions from all households to maintain the water supply system, but also contributions in labour to maintain it. For example, every other year they have a collective working action of cleaning and disinfecting the reservoir facility.
Challenges of the commons governance over the Luke water supply system are mostly related to its legal status and regulation of ownership. Federal law on water says that water facilities like reservoirs and pipelines must be owned by the municipality, unless otherwise specified by the cantonal regulation. In this case, the water supply system Luke is owned by the Luke subsidiary of the local community Gojevići within the Fojnica municipality. The municipality gave permission to citizens of Luke to build their own water supply system as it did not have resources to connect Luke to its public water supply system, which is governed by the municipal public company. However, there is pressure all over the country to legalise local water supply systems like this one by connecting them to the centralised public systems. Residents of Luke are refusing legalisation and connection to the Fojnica
public water supply system because they would have bigger water expenses, which could be a problem for this low-income community. Other challenges are related to natural phenomena which can cause certain problems. For example, after heavy precipitation or sudden snow, the melting water can be blurred and it takes a maximum
of two days until the water is clear for drinking.
ANALYSIS OF THE GOVERNING PRACTICE USING OSTROM’S 8 DESIGN PRINCIPLES
A) clearly defined boundaries
The borders of this resource which is governed as commons are clearly defined. Borders of the Luke water supply system follow the clearly defined borders of the Luke village, as the water pipes follow the houses. The community of users is easy to define as only inhabitants of Luke can use the local water supply system and govern it as commons. It is also easy to exclude unauthorised users, as one needs physical access points installed and built in order to be able to use the water supply system on regular basis. The mechanism for preventing irresponsible consumption or unauthorised use is simple, since they use the already installed manholes to turn off water. Currently the users are even considering expanding the water pipes and giving access to their water supply system to the neighbouring village of Miletići, if the water level stays stable. Therefore, it is clear that the borders of the resource and community are well defined, which enables sustainable commons governance.
B) congruence between appropriation & provision rules & local conditions
There is a good connection between appropriation and provision rules for the users of the Luke water supply system, while both are well adapted to local conditions. Appropriation rules are related to the availability of the water resource. Although this part of the country is rich with water, Luke residents are aware that certain weather
conditions, like hot summers with droughts, can cause water shortages. In that case, the rules are to reduce water consumption until the water level in the reservoir reaches normal level. When it comes to provision rules, it was decided at the Assembly of Citizens that certain resources are needed for the maintenance of the water supply
system. Every household in Luke gives 10 convertible marks for this fund (around € 5) on a yearly basis, and the money is kept in the account of the Luke subsidiarity. The citizens’ response has been very good, as 90% of households have paid the water supply system maintenance fee since 2015. The remaining 10% are families that live abroad and rarely visit the village. Other than this maintenance fee, users of the water supply system do not pay anything, meaning that they are not charged according to the quantity of their water consumption, which is usually the case with public water companies. Provision rules also involve common labour, which is expected from all residents of Luke, but also some specialised labour according to the person’s capacities. For example, the local veterinarian contributes his voluntary work by checking the technical and health standards regarding the safety of the drinking water.
C) collective-choice arrangements
When it comes to collective-choice arrangements of the governance of the Luke water supply, they are related to the formal and informal governance structure of the Luke subsidiary, as all the residents of Luke are users of the water supply system. The main institution is the Assembly of Citizens in which all inhabitants of the Luke village can participate and decide, although it is an informal body. The decisions of this body are effectively implemented by the president, who is elected by Luke citizens and manages the official stamp and account of the Luke subsidiary. For example, the Assembly of Citizens with 32 present inhabitants unanimously voted in favour of constructing the new water supply system. In 2015, the Assembly also decided to introduce a € 5 yearly maintenance fee for all the households. The community of Luke also elects the Water Committee, which is an informal body responsible for taking care of every technical issue related to the water supply system in cooperation with other inhabitants. The community of Luke has confidence in this body because members of the Committee are usually prominent and active citizens that have already been involved in various actions for the village’s welfare. At all meetings of the institutions, like the Assembly of Citizens or the Water Committee, it is easy to invite and gather all inhabitants of Luke, who then also directly make the most important decisions about the governance of the local water supply system.
The main institution which monitors the governance of the Luke water supply system is the Water Committee. It consists of 5 active members of the community and they are elected at the Assembly of Citizens, so they are directly accountable to the whole community of Luke. They mostly monitor technical operations of the water supply system, so they meet in case of malfunctions or when there are plans to have regular cleaning and disinfection of the water reservoir. The committee members are not paid for their work, so they do it as voluntary work for the community. There is also other monitoring work done by the Water Committee, including excessive
water consumption and the residents’ activities that might pollute the water that enters the supply system. However, monitoring is really done by all residents of Luke, as any observed technical malfunction, water overconsumption or potential pollution should be reported to the Water Committee.
E) graduated sanctions
There is a clear system of sanctions for violating the rules of governing the Luke water supply system and these sanctions are graduated. The first sanction is verbal warning and the final sanction is shutting off—disconnection from the water supply system. However, most of the problems are solved simply through conversations with the residents. Since members of the Water Committee are recognized as respected members of the community, people listen to them and are more willing to accept if they ask them to change their behaviour. Although the option of a water shutoff as sanction is possible, so far it has never happened because the violators adjusted their behaviour after warnings from the Water Committee.
F) conflict-resolution mechanisms
There are cheap and available conflict-resolution mechanisms related to the governance of the Luke water supply system. The most important conflict-resolution mechanism is the Water Committee. As the most prominent members of the Luke community are also members of the Water Committee, they are the ones responsible
for going out in the field and negotiating certain conflicts between users of the water supply system through conversation. They are also the ones who react when someone is doing something that could be harmful for the water supply system. For example, some residents of Luke once cut trees near the water reservoir, which could have endangered the quality of water. Conflict arose because the part of the land where the trees were cut was private land, so it was difficult to convince the owner to hold back from using it for the benefit of the common good. However, representatives of the Water Committee managed to convince the villagers that certain
areas around the water reservoir should be protected, and it is now considered an informal “water protected zone”. If there are conflicts which cannot be resolved by the Water Committee, the Assembly of Citizens convenes.
G) minimal recognition of rights to organise
There are minimal recognition rights by external authorities for the Luke community to organise, and to some extent to have the water supply system, but there is growing conflict about how the system should be governed. External local authorities within the Fojnica municipality gave consent for the construction of the Luke water supply system, while the federal institutions even co-financed its construction. However, there is a growing tension regarding water management with the Fojnica municipality because of the conflict that emerged over the construction of the hydropower plant on the Željeznica river in Luke. This hydropower plant was one of 11 plants planned at the Željeznica river within the Fojnica municipality. Municipal authorities were pushing this project, so in 2009 the citizens of Gojevići, Dusine, Luke and Bakovići began their struggle against these plants, because they
were not consulted and these projects would in no way benefit their communities. Furthermore, in the case of Luke, it would be the end of the water supply system since the river would be tubed for electricity production at a point which would potentially cut their water supply. After this struggle, there has been constant conflict with the municipal government of Fojnica over water governance and other issues. Luke inhabitants want to upgrade the legal status of Luke from subsidiary of the local community Gojevići to an independent local community, which would give them more legal, political and financial autonomy. Regarding recognition on state level, there is growing pressure to legalise all local, which usually means rural, watersupply systems by connecting them to centralised water supply systems operated by municipal companies. Federal government is pushing for this, using the argument that the safety of water is greater when it is checked by public institutions within the public water system, which is also standard in the eu countries.
H) nested enterprise
Not applicable as the Luke water supply system is not part of a bigger resource which is under a commons governance regime.
The Luke water supply system is similar to many local or rural systems around Bosnia and Herzegovina that were built by local villagers themselves since the state could not provide water service. It is a very clear example of commons governance, with well-defined borders of the resource, and community, institutions and rules
that are well adapted to the local situation. It is also a peculiar case because the community that governs its water supply system has the legal status of a subsidiary of local community, which means that it has formal governing institutions. It is still governed as commons, since the formal representative democracy institutions in reality function as informal direct democracy institutions, and there is constant tension about resource governance with the local government at municipal level. Another characteristic of this commons is the unresolved legal status of the water supply system, since the local and central government are pushing the villagers to connect to the centralised public water supply system for health and safety reasons. This is the biggest challenge for the sustainability of this commons governance case and all other informal water supply systems in the SEE region. Some kind of legalisation, standardisation and recognition from the state will probably be needed in order for the citizens to continue running their own independent water supply systems and at the same time conform to environmental, health and tax standards.
Tomašević, T., Horvat, V., Midžić, A, Dragšić, I., Dakić, M. (2018): Commons in South East Europe: Case of Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Macedonia. Institute for Political Ecology, Zagreb.
The photos provided by the author.