Tradable Water Rights: A Property Rights Approach to Improving Water Use and Promoting Investment

by Mateen Thobani; Paul Holden

Dec 1, 1995
In most countries, the state owns the water and hydraulic infrastructure, and public officials decide who gets water rights, how the water is to be used, and how much will be charged for its use. The authors of this paper compare administered systems of water allocation with a system of tradable water rights, and argue that water allocation by administrative edict has resulted in costly, large-scale inefficiencies in the supply and use of water, even withan adequate institutional framework. Secure property rights, on the other hand, have been shown to have a powerful positive effect on investment and efficiency, although only a few countries have tried to take advantage of the allocative efficiencies of a market to assign water resources among users. The authors argue that in order to ensure implementation of an effective water market system, attention should be paid to: (i) ensuring stakeholder participation in designing and implementing the new legislation; (ii) deciding on new rules for the initial allocation of rights and for how new rights should be allocated; (iii) establishing a public registry and block titling; (iv) setting up or strengthening water user associations; (v) protecting against the development of potential monopolies; (vi) ensuring that trades do not infringe on the water rights of existing users; and (vii) establishing appropriate environmental laws.

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