(This is the second part of a three-part series of columns on water rights.)

After my freshman year of college I spent two years living in Honduras. I was exposed to an entirely new culture and witnessed firsthand the harsh economic realities faced by many people. When I returned home and resumed my studies, my experiences in Honduras played a large part in my decision to major in economics.

I knew my courses would be math heavy, but I was surprised at how much the study of economics was the study of human nature. At the micro level, we learned how utility theory explains individual consumer behavior by examining the satisfaction or pleasure derived from the purchase of a good or service. At the macro level, we learned how governments use the inverse relationship between the money supply and interest rates to encourage certain large scale consumer behavior.

During my studies I was exposed to the “tragedy of commons” theory, which was first developed by British economist William Forster Lloyd in 1833. He explained the exhaustion of shared resources by looking at grazing habits. When grazing land was owned and used by one person, it was not overgrazed. However, grazing land open to the public, commonly referred to as the “commons” in nineteenth century England, was overgrazed. The difference was that when you overgraze your own land you bear the full reduction in the resource, but when you overgraze land held in common you only bear a reduction proportionate to your interest in the whole.

It has been 185 years since William Forster Lloyd developed his tragedy of commons theory, yet we still see the overuse and exhaustion of public resources on a regular basis. Thankfully, with regard to Canandaigua Lake, we benefit from local efforts to set aside our inherent tendency to overuse a shared resource.

In 1992 the six municipalities surrounding Canandaigua Lake (the City of Canandaigua and the Towns of Canandaigua, Gorham, Italy, Middlesex, and South Bristol) adopted a common set of rules and regulations for docks on Canandaigua Lake. That law, known as the Canandaigua Lake Uniform Docking and Mooring Law (the “UDML”), attempts to preserve and protect the lake by establishing uniform regulations for (1) the length, dimensions and density of docks, moorings and associated facilities, and (2) the number of boats, or boat slips and moorings, allowed per lineal foot of shoreline. By removing the ability of one municipality to overuse the lake to the detriment of the others, the UDML seeks to preserve, rather than overburden, a vitally important shared resource.

With the exception of the boathouse parcels on the City of Canandaigua Pier, the UDML applies to every lakefront parcel on Canandaigua Lake. Each parcel is assigned to one of three tiers based on its zoning district. Each tier has a different set of restrictions and requirements in terms of dock dimensions and the number of slips allowed. For example, in Tier 1, which is intended for residential zoning districts, property owners with 100 feet or less of lineal shoreline are limited to 1 dock with a maximum of 3 slips. Tiers 2 and 3 are reserved for commercial uses like marinas and hotels, and can have more slips. A Tier 1 property with 250 feet of lineal shoreline can have no more than 6 slips, but the same size property in Tier 2 can have 50 slips, and in Tier 3 can have 18 slips.

Regardless of the tier, all new docks must be constructed in accordance with the UDML. Docks that existed prior to its adoption in 1992 can remain, but they cannot be expanded or enlarged in violation of the UDML. If 50% or more of a dock is damaged, it cannot be replaced unless it is done in accordance with the UDML. And, if you stop using a nonconforming dock for more than a year it cannot be used thereafter unless it is first brought in compliance with the UDML. The UDML also requires docks to be built in compliance with federal and state law, which may require additional permits. As with other local land use regulations, your local zoning board of appeals stands as an outlet for variance requests. A lawyer familiar with the requirements of the UDML can navigate you through that process.

While the UDML is not a cure all for the challenges facing Canandaigua Lake, it does help. There will continue to be disputes and disagreements about the appropriate use levels for Canandaigua Lake, both on a regional level and between neighbors, but the UDML provides a workable framework for our mutual efforts to prevent the overburdening of the lake. Perhaps even more importantly, it is clear proof that we have the ability to work collaboratively to protect a vital shared resource even when economic theory might predict that our natural instincts would prevent us from doing so.

Terence Robinson is a Partner at Boylan Code LLP, a full service law firm with more than fifty legal professionals focused on serving you, the client. Offices are conveniently located in Canandaigua, Newark, and Rochester. This article is not legal advice.
Email: trobinson@boylancode.com

To read the published article in the Daily Messenger, click here.