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

By Richard W. Wahl | Go to book overview

6
Federal Policy Changes to Facilitate Voluntary Water Transfers

A good deal has been written about the steps states could take to facilitate voluntary water transfers. For example, they could reduce the high transactions costs of state approval processes, clarify in state law that the transfer of water does not constitute evidence of failure to put water to beneficial use, define water rights in terms of consumptive use rather than only in terms of withdrawals, and quantify the consumptive uses associated with existing rights.1 This chapter takes state water law and institutions as given and examines what changes in federal law and policy would facilitate voluntary water transfers within the context of existing state law. The matter is important given the large quantities of water that are supplied by the Bureau of Reclamation in many western states and the interest by some states in facilitating transfers. The bureau supplies about 27 million acrefeet of water for irrigation use annually in the seventeen western states, about 3 million acre-feet for municipal and industrial uses, and about 1 million acre-feet for other nonagricultural uses ( U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, 1986, p. 2). About 22 percent of the irrigated acreage in these states receives at least supplemental supplies of federally supplied irrigation water, and this percentage exceeds 40 percent in Idaho and Washington (refer to tables 1-2 and 1-3).

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1
For additional discussion of these points, see Hartman and Seastone, 1970; Meyers and Posner, 1971; U.S. National Water Commission, 1973, pp. 260-270; Phelps, Moore, and Graubard, 1978; California Assembly Office of Research, 1982; Frederick, 1982; Environmental Defense Fund, 1983; Stavins and Willey, 1983; Anderson, 1983a,b; Saliba and Bush, 1987).

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