Allocation of Water Rights through Auctions

Since 2012, the journal Science has published a series of informal surveys called “NextGen Voices” regarding various aspects of science. The most recent NextGen survey posed the following questions: “Imagine that there is unlimited funding available for one currently unexplored scientific endeavor. Describe the project you would propose to get the funding. How would your project revolutionize your field or the scientific system as a whole?” Although our field (law) is not really a science by any stretch of the imagination, the editors of Science published our contribution to this survey earlier this month (2 October 2015). Here is what we wrote:

Water is essential for life, yet hundreds of millions of people around the world still lack access to fresh water supplies. Moreover, at current rates of consumption, two-thirds of the world’s growing population may face severe fresh water shortages by 2025. Accordingly, if unlimited funding were available for one unexplored or unsolved scientific problem, I would propose a multifaceted and global fresh water science project to discover new sources of clean potable water, reduce water waste, and propose new institutions for allocating existing supplies of fresh water. My project would start with the premise that access to water is a global human right. At the same time, since commercial agriculture and food production consume most of our scarce supplies of fresh water, my project would also explore more efficient irrigation and water management practices and propose new methods of allocating the legal rights to irrigation water, such as auctions or other market mechanisms. By unearthing new sources of fresh water and proposing new methods of allocating the rights to existing supplies of water, my research project would revolutionize our world by solving the tragedy of the fresh water commons.

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