This paper presents an analysis of the effects of different institutional arrangements and economic environments on water markets. Characteristics of water rights transfers in the South Platte Basin of Colorado and transfers of shares of the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District (NCWCD) are compared to show how different institutional arrangements can affect the types and size distributions of transfers. The characteristics of water rights transfers in the prosperous South Platte are then compared with water rights transfer characteristics in the economically marginal Arkansas River basin of Colorado to identify the effects of different economic environments. Finally, the economic losses from reductions in irrigated acreage resulting from water transfers are estimated for the South Platte and Arkansas and compared with purchase prices by municipalities. Transfers in the South Platte were to new uses in the same basin, while more recent transfers in the Arkansas were to out of basin users. Transfers of South Platte rights and especially NCWCD shares were small and continuous over time, while transfers in the Arkansas were dominated by a few very large transfers. The negative impacts are judged to be more severe in the Arkansas basin than in the South Platte. Purchase prices paid by municipalities substantially exceeded capitalized transitional losses in the selling areas. In the South Platte, gains and losses were in the same basin, while the Arkansas absorbed the losses, with the benefits going to the purchasing basin.