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Water Rights and Markets in the U.S. Semi Arid West: Efficiency and Equity Issues

  • Gary D. Libecap

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    There are both high resource and political costs in defining and enforcing property rights to water and in managing it with markets. In this paper, I examine these issues in the semi-arid U.S. West where many of the intensifying demand and supply problems regarding fresh water are playing out. I begin by illustrating the current state of water markets in 12 western U.S. states. There are major differences in water prices across uses (agriculture, urban, environmental) and these differences appear to persist, suggesting that water markets have not developed fully enough to narrow the gaps. Moreover, there is considerable difference in the extent and nature of water trading across the western states, suggesting that water values and transaction costs of trade vary considerably across jurisdictions. I then turn to the resource and political costs of defining water rights and expanding the use of markets. In this discussion, efficiency and equity objectives play important, often conflicting, roles. This tension reflects the very social nature of the water resource.

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    File URL: http://servizi.sme.unito.it/icer_repec/RePEc/icr/wp2010/ICERwp30-10.pdf
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    Paper provided by ICER - International Centre for Economic Research in its series ICER Working Papers with number 30-2010.

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    Length: 39 pages
    Date of creation: Dec 2010
    Date of revision:
    Handle: RePEc:icr:wpicer:30-2010
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    1. Hansen, Kristiana & Howitt, Richard E. & Williams, Jeffrey C., 2005. "An Econometric Test of the Endogeneity of Institutions: Water Markets in the Western United States," 2005 Annual meeting, July 24-27, Providence, RI 19548, American Agricultural Economics Association (New Name 2008: Agricultural and Applied Economics Association).
    2. Provencher Bill & Burt Oscar, 1993. "The Externalities Associated with the Common Property Exploitation of Groundwater," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 139-158, March.
    3. Libecap, Gary D., 2007. "The Assignment of Property Rights on the Western Frontier: Lessons for Contemporary Environmental and Resource Policy," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 67(02), pages 257-291, June.
    4. Jedidiah Brewer & Robert Glennon & Alan Ker & Gary D. Libecap, 2007. "Water Markets in the West: Prices, Trading, and Contractual Forms," NBER Working Papers 13002, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Libecap, Gary D & Smith, James L, 2002. "The Economic Evolution of Petroleum Property Rights in the United States," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 31(2), pages S589-608, June.
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