Transaction Costs and Institutional Performance in Market-Based Environmental Water Allocation

Dustin Garrick and Bruce Aylward


Policy reforms in the Columbia Basin spurred water rights reallocation for ecological recovery. Transaction costs have caused implementation to lag. This paper examines transaction costs and institutional performance in environmental water allocation. It evaluates spatial and temporal performance trends in watershed cases along three dimensions of adaptive efficiency: water recovery, transaction costs, and program budgets. Performance trends demonstrate intrastate variability and volatility over time due to the importance of local institutional capacity, which is uneven within states. Higher levels of water recovery may coincide with moderate to high transaction costs and program budgets, particularly during initial implementation efforts. This finding reflects investments in multilevel policy reform to strengthen enabling conditions and adapt to unintended consequences. (JEL Q25, Q58)

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