The paper models co-operative engagement under varying environmental constraints giving rise to different forms of collective action problems, specifically focussing on water management in pre-industrial societies. I show that societies where water availability is strongly seasonal develop no mechanism to encourage society-wide co-operative behaviour because the benefits of water storage are fully excludable. With pre-industrial technology water storage is a pure club good, and optimal club size can be shown to be very small under credible parameter values, converging to 1 in some cases (private good). The social consequences of the environmental constraint include strongly circumscribed co-operation and rent seeking. In contrast, areas where water management involved flood control and irrigation develop society-wide institutions based on self-sustaining co-operative engagement assisted by external policing. The model thus offers an explanation of varying levels of "civic virtue" in different areas
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