The river sharing problem: A review of the technical literature for policy economists
Water is essential for life. However, the basic problem of water resource allocation has been that water tends to be over-allocated. Demand for water exceeds the available supply. Essentially, the water economy is bankrupt. Bankruptcy problems have been almost exhaustively studied in the literature on economic theory-primarily from the perspective of cooperative game theory. The main concern of this literature has been how to fairly divide up the assets of a bankrupt entity. In water resource economics cooperative game theory has often been employed as a means of analyzing water resource allocation. It was only recently that the problem of directional flow was incorporated into such analyses. This has come to be known as the “river sharing problem” in the theoretical literature. Accounting for the direction of flow in water resource allocation problems has profound implications for policies that wish to facilitate both fair and efficient water allocations. This is the case whether proposed policies are interventionist or market based in nature. There is now a considerable literature on the allocation and distribution of water resources characterized by unidirectional flow. In this paper I critically review and appraise this literature with a view to making it more accessible to applied and policy economists. A key feature of the paper is that the connection between the bankruptcy literature, which has recently also realized the importance of flow, and the river sharing literature is discussed. The current state of the art in game theoretic models of water resource allocation with directional flow is discussed and implications and consequences for water resource policy highlighted
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