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Why Water Markets Are Not Quick Fixes for Droughts in the Western United States

Because of the peculiar nature of water rights, we should look to market-based transactions as an economically efficient way to reallocate scarce water resources. Nevertheless, because of the need to untangle the hydrologic interconnectedness of water rights and the institutional connectedness of irrigators and delivery institutions in the West, transfers of water will always be expensive and time consuming. Whether municipalities purchase water from farmers and thus bear the transaction costs directly, or the private sector purchases agricultural water, bears the associated risk and transaction costs, and sells it on to municipalities, end users will inevitably pay higher prices for water. Droughts can focus public attention on the value of water and potentially increase willingness-to-pay prices that reflect the transaction costs of tangled western water markets.

Authors: Charles J.P. Podolak and Martin Doyle

 

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Water

Allocation

Western

Working Papers

Optimizing the Scale of Markets for Water Quality Trading

Allowing polluters to buy, sell or trade water-quality credits could significantly reduce pollution in river basins and estuaries faster and at a lower cost than requiring facilities to meet compliance costs on their own, a new Duke University led study finds. The scale and type of the trading programs, though critical, may matter less than just getting them started. The analysis in the journal Water Resources Research shows that water-quality trading of any kind can significantly lower the costs of achieving Clean Water Act goals.

Author(s): Martin Doyle, Lauren Patterson, Yanyou Chen, Kurt Schnier, and Andrew Yates

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Science

Water

Ecosystem Services

Environmental Economics

National

Journal Articles

Conditional Water Rights in the Western United States: Introducing Uncertainty to Prior Appropriation?

In the prior-appropriation water rights regimes that prevail in the arid western United States, claims to annually variable surface water flows are fulfilled on the basis of the order of their establishment. The two-step process used to establish an appropriative water right in all 17 conterminous western states creates a temporary phase, or conditional water right, that has a priority date but no actual water use. This article reviews the legal basis for these conditional water rights and demonstrates the potential uncertainty they introduce to current water users. It then presents a complete census of conditional water rights (amounts, ages, and uses) in Colorado. At the end of 2012, conditional water rights in Colorado (some over 90 years old) were equal to 61% of the perfected water rights. Many of the controversial conditional water rights in Colorado have been associated with unconventional oil production in the northwestern portion of the state; however, conditional water rights are ubiquitous across the state and across many use types. In several basins, their existence can introduce uncertainty to some of the most senior water rights holders. Nevertheless, in most of the state, the effects of conditional water rights are restricted to a relatively junior class of water users. This work quantifies for the first time the result, in one state, of a peculiar aspect of water law common across all western prior-appropriation states.

Author(s): Charles J.P. Podolak and Martin Doyle

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Water

Allocation

Western

Journal Articles

The Effect of Non-Fluoride Factors on Risk of Dental Fluorosis: Evidence from Rural Populations of the Main Ethiopian Rift

Elevated levels of fluoride in drinking water is a well-recognized risk factor of dental fluorosis. In this study, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, authors found flouride to be strongly associated with dental fluorosis in a sample of over 1000 individuals living in several rural communities in the Ethiopia. Age, sex, SSSF, and milk consumption were found to correlate with dental fluorosis outcomes, both as independent factors and through modification of the effects of flouride. In addition, several other elements in water were significantly associated with dental health in the study area, suggesting the possibility that dental fluorosis may be related to multiple contaminant exposures. Additional research is warranted to more effectively isolate these effects, and to understand the mechanisms by which they operate.

Author (s): Julia Kravchenko, Tewodros Rango, Igor Akushevich, Behailu Atlaw, Peter G. McCornick, R. Brittany Merola, Christopher Paul, Erika Weinthal, Courtney Harrison, Avner Vengosh, Marc Jeuland

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Science

Water

Health and Sanitation

Quality

Natural Resources

International

Journal Articles

Climate and Direct Human Contributions to Changes in Mean Annual Streamflow in the South Atlantic, USA

Streamflow responds to changing climate patterns as well as human modifications within a basin. Understanding the contribution of these different drivers to changes in streamflow provides important information regarding how to effectively and efficiently address and anticipate changes in water availability. In this study, published in the journal Water Resources Research, authors used Budyko curves to ascribe changes in streamflow due to climate and human factors between two time periods in both natural and human-modified basins in the South Atlantic. They found climate contributed to increased streamflow (average of 14%) in the South Atlantic since the 1970s. Human factors varied between basins and either amplified or minimized the effect of climate on streamflow. Human impacts were equivalent to, or greater than, climate impacts in 27% of our basins. 

Author (s): Lauren Patterson, Brian Lutz, Martin Doyle

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Climate & Energy

Science

Water

Natural Resources

States & Regions

State Policy

Journal Articles

Characterization of Drought in the South Atlantic, United States

In this Journal of the American Water Resources Association article, authors aim to characterize drought in the South Atlantic and to understand whether drought has become more severe in this region over time using monthly streamflow to characterize hydrological drought. Significant changes in drought characteristics were tested with Mann-Kendall over three periods: 1930-2010, 1930-1969, and 1970-2010. Authors show that 71% of drought events were shorter than six months, while 7% were multiyear events. There was little evidence of trends in drought characteristics to support the claim of drought becoming more severe in the South Atlantic over the 20th Century. The one exception was a significant increase in the joint probability of nearby basins being simultaneously in drought conditions in the southern portion of the study area from 1970 to 2010. While drought characteristics have changed little through time, decreasing average streamflow in non drought periods, coupled with increasing water demand, provide the context within which recent multiyear drought events have produced significant stress on existing water infrastructure.

Author(s): Lauren Patterson, Brian Lutz, and Martin Doyle

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Climate & Energy

Science

Water

Quality

Natural Resources

National

Journal Articles

Climate Change, Foreign Assistance, and Development: What Future for Ethiopia?

Alongside the persistent challenges of poverty and rural subsistence, many low-income countries such as Ethiopia face new problems brought by climate change and surging global economic activities. This paper by Duke University researchers examines the combined impacts of global climate change and the changing nature of donor assistance in Africa on economic development broadly and food security through the example of Ethiopia.

Author(s): Christopher Paul, Erika Weinthal, Courtney Harrison

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Climate & Energy

Water

Environmental Economics

International

Adaptation

Reports

Groundwater Quality and Its Health Impact: An Assessment of Dental Fluorosis in Rural Inhabitants of the Main Ethiopian Rift

Increased intake of dietary calcium may be key to addressing widespread dental health problems faced by millions of rural residents in Ethiopia’s remote, poverty-stricken Main Rift Valley, according to a new Duke University-led study published in the journal Environment International. As many as 8 million people living in the valley are estimated to be at risk of dental and skeletal fluorosis as a result of their long-term exposure to high levels of naturally occurring fluoride in the region’s groundwater. Most efforts to combat fluorosis in the region have focused primarily on treating drinking water to reduce its fluoride content. Increasing the amount of calcium in villagers’ diets, or finding alternative sources of drinking water may be necessary in addition to these fluoride-reducing treatments, the study found. Support came from the Duke Global Health Institute and Duke’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

Author(s): Tewodros Rango, Julia Kravchenko, Behailu Atlaw, Peter G. McCornick, Marc Jeuland, Brittany Merola, Avner Vengosh

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Water

International

Quality

Journal Articles

Building Change towards Full Cost Water: Lessons from the Rate Setting Process

To ensure the country's changing water demands and evolving environmental challenges are met, the water industry must find new strategies and partners to map a new way forward. A new paper by the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions highlights the importance of rate setting strategy. By analyzing disparate rate cases, the authors show that common
strategies can exist with regard to rate setting procedures no matter how different the utility.

Author(s): David Gordon, Bill Holman

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Water

Ecosystem Services

State Policy

Quality

Working Papers

Freshwater, Climate Change and Adaptation in the Ganges River Basin

Climate change is one of the drivers of change in the Ganges river basin, together with population growth, economic development and water management practices. These changing circumstances have a significant impact on key social and economic sectors of the basin, largely through changes in water quantity, quality and timing of availability. This paper evaluates the impact of water on changing circumstances in three sectors of the Ganges basin: agriculture, ecosystems and energy. Given the inherent interconnectedness of these core sectors and the cross-cutting impact of changing circumstances on water resources, we argue that adaptation should not be viewed as a separate initiative, but rather as a goal and perspective incorporated into every level of planning and decision making. Adaptation to changing circumstances will need to be closely linked to water resource management and will require significant collaboration across the sectors.

Author(s): Heather R. Hosterman, Peter G. McCornick, Elizabeth J. Kistin, Bharat Sharma, and Luna Bharati

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Water

Adaptation

Journal Articles

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