Evidence Supporting Cap and Trade as a Groundwater Policy Option for Reducing Irrigation Consumptive Use

by Christopher L. Thompson; Raymond J. Supalla; Derrel L. Martin; Brian P. McMullen

Dec 1, 2009
In the American West water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. Obligations to bordering states, endangered species protection, and long-term resource sustainability objectives have created a need for most western states to reduce the consumption of irrigation water. In Nebraska specifically, the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources (NDNR) and local Natural Resource Districts (NRDs) are meeting a large part of this need by using a regulatory approach, commonly called groundwater allocation. The cost of allocation, which occurs in the form of reduced economic returns to irrigation, could be greatly reduced by using an integrated cap and trade approach. Much like environmental cap and trade programs which are used to reduce the cost of limiting environmental pollution, the trading of capped groundwater allocations can reduce the cost of limiting water use. In an analysis of a typical case in the Nebraska Republican Basin, we found that the impact of a water market to trade groundwater allocations depended on the size of the allocation and on the characteristics of the land and irrigation systems involved in the trade. Potential economic benefits from trade ranged from US$0 to US$120 per 1,000 cubic meters traded, from US$25 to US$250 per 1,000 cubic meters of reduction in consumptive use, and from US$16 to US$50 per hectare of irrigated land in the region. The highest benefits occurred at relatively high allocations, which capped withdrawals at 65-75% of the expected unrestricted pumping level. These gains from trade would be split between buyers and sellers based on the negotiated selling price.
Evidence Supporting Cap and Trade as a Groundwater Policy Option for Reducing Irrigation Consumptive Use


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