Policy Sciences

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 335–351

Designing property rights for water: mediating market, government, and corporation failures


DOI: 10.1007/s11077-007-9048-5

Cite this article as:
Whitford, A.B. & Clark, B.Y. Policy Sci (2007) 40: 335. doi:10.1007/s11077-007-9048-5


Recent decades have seen an acceleration in public concern about the allocation of increasingly scarce water supplies. There are many reasons for this concern, such as growth in urban populations. In this article, we focus on how surface water’s special qualities (the combination of spillovers, rent-seeking behavior, and common pool resources) complicate the assignment of property rights in any legal framework. These characteristics make specific market structures necessary in order to efficiently allocate rights. The state usually designs those structures. Yet, just like markets can fail, so can governments fail to effectively allocate those rights. So designers often turn to quasi-judicial conservancy boards as a second-best solution. We argue that those boards may themselves fail through a form of “corporation failure.” We address these three types of failures, and offer an analysis of two cases that suggests that the likelihood conservancy boards will suffer from corporate failure depends on the actions of the boards and outside stakeholders (like governments).


Water rights Institutional design Second best solutions Market failure Government failure Corporation failure Double moral hazard 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Public Administration and PolicyThe University of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Department of Public Administration and Policy, School of Public & International AffairsThe University of GeorgiaAthensUSA

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