IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Transaction Costs: Valuation Disputes, Bi-Lateral Monopoly Bargaining and Third-Party Effects in Water Rights Exchanges. The Owens Valley Transfer to Los Angeles


  • Gary D. Libecap


Between 1905 and 1934 over 869 farmers in Owens Valley, California sold their land and associated water rights to Los Angeles, 250 miles to the southwest. This agriculture-to-urban water transfer increased Los Angeles' water supply by over 4 times, making the subsequent dramatic growth of the semi-arid city possible, generating large economic returns. The exchange took water from a marginal agricultural area and transferred it via the Los Angeles Aqueduct. No other sources of water became available for the city until 1941 with the arrival of water from Hoover Dam via the California Aqueduct. The Owens Valley transfer was the first and last, large-scale voluntary market exchange of water from agriculture to urban. Despite gains to both parties from the re-allocation of water to higher-valued uses, the Owens Valley transfer serves today as a metaphor, cautioning any agricultural region against water sales to urban areas. In this paper I examine the bargaining involved in the Owens Valley water transfer to determine why it was so contentious and became so notorious. I focus on valuation disputes, bi-lateral monopoly, and third party effects. I also examine the impact of the transfer on Owens Valley and Los Angeles land owners. The results suggest gains to both groups. Broader conclusions for bargaining, when the aggregate gains from trade are enormous, but distribution very skewed, are drawn.

Suggested Citation

  • Gary D. Libecap, 2004. "Transaction Costs: Valuation Disputes, Bi-Lateral Monopoly Bargaining and Third-Party Effects in Water Rights Exchanges. The Owens Valley Transfer to Los Angeles," NBER Working Papers 10801, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10801
    Note: DAE

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N5 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries
    • Q2 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Renewable Resources and Conservation

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10801. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.