NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Bryan Leonard

School of Sustainability
Arizona State University

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Institutional Affiliations: Arizona State University and University of California, Santa Barbara

NBER Working Papers and Publications

April 2016Collective Action by Contract: Prior Appropriation and the Development of Irrigation in the Western United States
with Gary D. Libecap: w22185
We analyze the economic determinants and effects of prior appropriation water rights that were voluntarily implemented across an immense area of the US West, abruptly replacing common-law riparian water rights. At the same time and place, vast private irrigation infrastructure added to the US capital stock. We build upon Ostrom and Gardner (1993) and model irrigation as a coordination problem to show how prior appropriation facilitated greater private infrastructure development than was possible under the baseline riparian system by i) securing access to water against future entry and ii) defining a property right that formed the basis for contracting around collective action problems among numerous, heterogeneous agents. We construct a dataset of 7,800 rights in Colorado, established betw...

Published: Bryan Leonard & Gary D. Libecap, 2019. "Collective Action by Contract: Prior Appropriation and the Development of Irrigation in the Western United States," The Journal of Law and Economics, vol 62(1), pages 67-115.

 
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