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Water use in the western U.S.: irrigated agriculture, water leases, and public preferences




Thorvaldson, Jennifer Lynn, author
Pritchett, James, advisor
Frasier, Marshall, committee member
Bright, Alan, committee member

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In the western U.S., water continues to be reallocated from agricultural to urban uses as a result of rapid population growth and urbanization. However, the negative implications of permanent rural-to-urban water transfers call into question the economic practicality and social acceptability of additional transfers. While some of the short-term economic impacts of permanent water transfers have been estimated, less attention has been given to the longer-term impacts of such transfers. There is also a need to evaluate the economic and social viability of emerging alternatives to permanent water transfers. In addition to assessing the economic contribution of irrigated agriculture, this dissertation assesses the economic and social viability of water transfers and some of their alternatives, from the perspectives of both farmers and urban households. Chapter 1 provides a brief overview of western water law and motivation for the research. Chapter 2 assesses some of the longer-term effects of reduced irrigated acreage on the economic health of western rural counties. First, the relationship between irrigated agriculture and rural economic health is modeled via regression analysis of secondary data. The modeled relationship is then examined for structural breaks to test whether there is a minimum level of irrigated land necessary to sustain the economic health of rural agricultural communities. In Chapter 3, a survey of households in the western U.S. uncovers public perceptions and preferences regarding water use, conservation, and reallocation; current levels of water knowledge; and willingness to pay a fee in support of various water conservation and reallocation programs. In Chapter 4, a survey of irrigators in eastern Colorado is used to estimate a supply curve for leased water and to identify some of the factors that influence farmers' decision to lease their water. Chapter 5 concludes and suggests areas for further study. The research results will be useful to rural community leaders who are concerned with the evolution of their communities as their resources transition to urban use; urban planners as they consider water supply options; western households as they face the costs of water supply and reallocation programs; policymakers as they consider implementation of water lease markets; and farmers as they consider selling or leasing their water rights.


2010 Spring.
Includes bibliographic references (pages 149-163).

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Agricultural economics
Water Resource Management


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