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Water Allocation in Rivers under Pressure


‘Water Allocation in Rivers Under Pressure goes beyond a simplistic analysis of how the rules governing water allocation on the Columbia, Murray-Darling, and Colorado River systems create difficulties.  Garrick helps us understand why those rules operate the way they do, and why they are so difficult to change. His clarity in explaining the roots of our problems can go a long way toward helping us learn to fix them.’

– John Fleck, University of New Mexico


‘This book is a stand out. It shines a light on a public policy question of critical importance: how to generate solutions to poor water governance and make a difference for people who share scarce freshwater resources? It is a book that everyone should read to learn lessons from the Western US and Southeast Australia – two regions with a long history of tackling difficult water planning and allocation challenges.’
– R. Quentin Grafton, The Australian National University


‘Water Allocation in Rivers Under Pressure represents a comprehensive synthesis of insights about water management institutions, spanning centuries, continents, and disciplines.  Dustin Garrick is able to understand and communicate the full complexity of the physical and social factors that make water allocation such a “wicked problem.”  Based on his comparative analysis of three river basins, Garrick develops nuanced institutional design recommendations that lead to adaptive efficiency.  This book is a valuable resource for those who make water policy and for those who research it.’

Laura McCannUniversity of Missouri


‘Dustin Garrick provides us with an inspiring landmark study of water allocation problems in highly stressed river basins. In a deeply reflected way, he pushes forward the scientific contribution of transaction costs analysis and diagnostics of polycentric governance in regard to addressing and understanding natural resource management problems worldwide.’
– Andreas Thiel, Humboldt University, Germany

Water Allocation in Rivers under Pressure

Dustin Evan Garrick

Almost four billion people will live in river basins experiencing severe water stress by 2050 according to the baseline estimate of the 2012 OECD Environmental Outlook.  Water markets and integrated river basin governance have been upheld as institutional blueprints for allocating scarce and variable freshwater for people, agriculture and ecosystems. Progress has been uneven, however, despite multiple decades of institutional reforms in rivers under pressure.

In Water Allocation in Rivers under Pressure, Dustin Evan Garrick examines the evolution and performance of water allocation reforms in the Colorado, Columbia and Murray–Darling Basins, three ‘closed rivers’ at the leading edge of water scarcity challenges globally.  The three river basins are important international examples of water allocation reforms to confront a common set of defining challenges:  competition for water within and across sectors, climate variability and change, and unmet environmental needs in rivers shared by multiple jurisdictions within a federal political system.

This book synthesizes over a decade of policy and economic research based on extensive field and archival research in the three basins.  It draws on concepts and evidence about property rights reform, transaction costs and institutional change to generate lessons about the factors contributing to more adaptive and sustainable water allocation.

This web page will try to keep the book ‘alive’ by including periodic reflections about ongoing water allocation reform efforts and policy proposals in Western North America and Southeast Australia where severe, sustained and synchronous droughts have intensified stress on rivers already under pressure.

Visit book page at: Edgar Elgar Publishing.

Available on Google Books (e-book) and Amazon (hard cover).


About the Author

Dustin Evan Garrick is an Assistant Professor and Philomathia Chair of Water Policy at McMaster University.  He specializes in water allocation policy and river basin governance in water stressed regions of Western North America and Southeast Australia.  His work has been published in Science, Annual Review of Environment and Resources, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society and several public policy and economics journals.  He holds grants from the Canadian and Australian Research Councils to investigate adaptation to climate extremes and water allocation reform in North America and Australia.

He has a special interest in interdisciplinary and science-practitioner networks that connect science and policymaking.  He currently serves on the management committee of the Food, Energy, Environment and Water (FE2W) Network.  He recently served on the Global Water Partnership / OECD task force on Water Security and Sustainable Growth and is active on a number of international and comparative water policy projects.

Prior to joining McMaster in January 2014, Dr. Garrick was a research fellow at the University of Oxford (2011-13) and a Fulbright Scholar (2010-11) in Australia, where he remains a research associate of the Centre for Water Economics, Environment and Policy at Australian National University.  In the course of this book project, he worked closely with practitioners at the Bureau of Reclamation (Colorado River), Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program and throughout Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin.

First Chapter Available for Free.

E-book available at Google Play.

Hard cover available on Amazon or Edward Elgar