Markets for Federal Water: Subsidies, Property Rights, and the Bureau of Reclamation

By Richard W. Wahl | Go to book overview

Introduction

My purposes in writing this book were multiple, but related: to explore the origins of federal water development in the western United States; to summarize how the Bureau of Reclamation of the U.S. Department of the Interior arrived where it is today; and to describe why certain water subsidies were built into the program and how they have pyramided, leading to inefficient water use. One of the main arguments in the book is that federally subsidized water supplies have become property rights and that the most effective way to confront the issue of inefficient usage is to recognize those rights and to facilitate voluntary transfers of federally supplied water. In particular, the book contains recommendations for how Bureau of Reclamation policy and law could be modified to better define such rights in order to facilitate water transfers. Finally, it examines several cases where facilitating transfers might prove fruitful. In short, facilitating water trades is one major step that the Bureau of Reclamation can take to modernize its role.1


Part I: History and Evolution of Subsidies

The book begins with a discussion of the history of the reclamation movement before 1900. Chapters 1 and 2 examine the early debates over the proper federal role in developing irrigation in the western

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1
It should be noted that the conclusions and policy recommendations in this volume are those of the author and do not represent any official positions of the Department of the Interior.

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