Cadillac Desert Revisited: Property Rights, Public Policy, and Water Resource Depletion

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Stephen P. Holland, Associate Professor (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
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Abstract: To alleviate Arizona‘s dependence on groundwater, the federal government subsidized construction of the Central Arizona Project (CAP) to import water from the Colorado River. In exchange for the subsidy, Arizona reformed its groundwater law to eliminate common-property pumping and to ban groundwater mining after the year 2025. We build a model of water resource development in which imported water is a capacity constrained backstop. The model is applied to quantify the welfare effects of alternative CAP construction dates and Arizona groundwater laws. We reach two general conclusions. First, CAP was completed 86 years too early, in 1987, at a deadweight loss of $2.612 billion. Ironically, construction in 1987 yielded lower surplus than never constructing CAP. Second, the political exchange of reform for subsidy introduced a greater loss ($2.612 billion) than it corrected ($0.810 billion). The exchange was worse than doing nothing at all.

Additional Information

Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 46(1) July, p. 131-155
Language: English
Date: 2003
Exhaustible resource, Setup costs, Backstop, Natural resource development, Water, Central Arizona Project

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