Owens Valley Revisited: A Reassessment of the West's First Great Water Transfer

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Stanford University Press, 2007 - Business & Economics - 209 pages
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In the contemporary West, pressures to more effectively reallocate water to meet growing urban and environmental demands are increasing as environmental awareness grows and climate change threatens existing water supplies.

The legacy of Owens Valley raises concerns about how reallocation can occur. Although it took place over seventy years ago, the water transfer from Owens Valley to Los Angeles still plays an important role in perceptions of how water markets work. The memory of Owens Valley transfer is one of theft and environmental destruction at the hands of Los Angeles. In reassessing the infamous transfer, one could say that there was no "theft." Owens Valley landowners fared well in their land and water sales, earning more than if they had stayed in agriculture. In another sense, however, "theft" did occur. The water was not literally stolen, but there was a sharp imbalance in gains from the trade--with most of the benefits going to Los Angeles. Owens Valley, then, demonstrates the importance of distributional issues in water trades when the stakes are large.

Los Angeles water rights in the Owens Valley and Mono Basin have again been a front-page issue since 1970. New environmental and recreational values and air pollution concerns have ushered in demands to curtail the shipment of water from source regions for urban use.

Owen's Valley Revisited: A Reassesment of the West's First Great Water Transfer carefully explores how these sagas were addressed, considering the costs involved, and alternative approaches that might have resulted in more rapid and less contentious remedies. This analysis offers insights to guide the ongoing conversation about water politics and the future thereof.



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A Reexamination of Owens Valley and Western Water
The Owens Valley Syndrome
The History of the Owens ValleytoLos Angeles Water and Land Exchange
The Bargaining Costs of Land and Water Rights Exchanges in Owens Valley
The Gains of Exchange and the Origin of the Notion of Theft
Water Rights and Water Reallocation in Owens Valley 19352005
Water Rights and Water Reallocation in the Mono Basin 19352006
The Costs of Judicial Reallocation of Water Rights and the Public Trust Doctrine
Concluding Thoughts About Owens Valley and Western Water

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About the author (2007)

Gary D. Libecap is Donald Bren Professor of Corporate Environmental Management, Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and Economics Department, University of California, Santa Barbara. Dr. Libecap is a Research Fellow and Associate at the Hoover Institution, the National Bureau of Economic Research, and the Property and Environment Research Center. He previously was Anheuser-Busch Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies, Economics, and Law and Director of the Karl Eller Center of the Eller College of Mangement at the University of Arizona.

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