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water quantity, farmland, population growth


The upper Great Plains and Mountain States of the United States withdraws a substantial quantity of water, exceeding 40 billion gallons of water per day (45 million acre feet of water per year). Primary uses are irrigation, domestic, and industrial. The amount of water used is increasing as population grows, as more users exercise water rights, as farmers implement the use of irrigation to reduce risk, and as the state's economies become more diverse. Within the Upper Midwest there is both geographic and temporal variability of water supply, resulting in various degrees of scarcity relative to the quantities demanded. The allocation method for the available water must be appropriate for these variations. The Upper Midwest region, defined here as the states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Nebraska, is a semi-arid area comprising of cropland, large open prairie and majestic mountains. Each state differ in their basic approach to water use. Some states favor more mobile resources and thus more immediate economic benefit, while others favor more regulation in favor of conservation, at the expense of economic return. Also, states differ as to the degree of need of aggressive, new water laws, based on the supply and demand situation in the state. For these reasons, it becomes apparent that the legal situation of water allocation is largely a reflection of the conditions of the state and advance only upon need. The laws of states such as California, Arizona, and New Mexico reflect greater water mobility as a result of water shortages and more aggressive water use plans. Northwestern and central states such as the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana are in less advanced water allocation environments probably because they have more rain, smaller populations and smaller, less diverse economies. Leaders of these states should recognize that, in the long run, the circumstances of water scarcity that the southwestern states are confronting now are somewhat inevitable in their own states as population and economic growth occurs. Therefore, implementation of water laws that are appropriate for these conditions and that are proven successful should occur.


Economics Research Report No. 92-3