Doing Less with More: The Irrigation Efficiency Paradox and Water Conservation Policies in Western U.S. Agriculture
Keywordscommon pool resources
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractThis dissertation explores why water conservation occurs in agriculture in the Western U.S. under prior appropriation governing institutions and leads to changes in water usage patterns. The prior appropriation doctrine has long been criticized for failing to incentivize water conservation and efficiency in the application and allocation of water. Some states have attempted to correct this misfit between prior appropriation institutions and present needs for flexibility in water management by enacting conserved water statutes to further define and protect the water rights of those who implement conservation measures. However, an apparent side effect of one common form of water conservation, using more efficient irrigation technologies and techniques, is increased consumptive use of water in irrigated agriculture—what is referred to as the irrigation efficiency paradox (Grafton et al. 2018). I suggest that the “irrigation efficiency paradox” is not an unexpected result, especially in states with conserved water statutes, as increases in consumptive usage should be expected when property rights to water exist. I explore and analyze the motivations for enacting conserved water statutes, demonstrating that the lack of institutional incentives, the involvement of multiple types of stakeholders, and the degree of problem severity were critical factors in motivating consideration and adoption of a statute. I provide a direct empirical test of the effects of conserved water statutes on agricultural water usage, finding that conserved water statutes are associated in some cases with higher usage of efficient irrigation technology, but the statutes more often appear to have a negative effect on consumptive water usage, contrary to expectations from the irrigation efficiency paradox. I also analyze the role of conserved water statutes in encouraging conservation through participation in environmental water transactions, showing that while the financial incentives offered by the transactions was more likely to encourage participation, conserved water statutes did not make these effects more likely or contribute to water conservation and allocation goals. The overall findings of this dissertation indicate that conserved water statutes are likely not very effective or appropriate for incentivizing water conservation in agriculture, especially when the goals of policymakers and stakeholders are to increase allocative efficiency in water management, rather than simply increase technical efficiency for individual water users. This dissertation contributes to the literature on water management and common pool resource governance by offering a comprehensive examination of conserved water statutes and the impacts of the institutional incentive structure for water usage and conservation in irrigated agriculture in the West.
Degree ProgramGraduate College
Government and Public Policy