Valuing Options in California Water Markets: A Laboratory Investigation

Risk and reliability dominate water supply discussions in the arid western United States. In the past, water managers built additional storage to mitigate supply risk. The optimal, least expensive storage sites have now been taken, and there are strong, environmental objections to new facilities. Reliability of existing supplies is further diminished due to concerns about endangered species and global climate change. Thus water agencies increasingly turn to contractual mechanisms such as dry-year options to manage supply risk in advance of need. However, although a few water agencies across the West have implemented dry-year options, sufficient data for conventional econometric analysis do not yet exist. We thus utilize experimental economics to analyze the effect of annual dry-year options on water markets. How do market structure (competitive versus market power) and option contract availability affect water price and allocation within a market? Experiment participants trade stochastic realizations of water in a non-uniform double auction parameterized to resemble the California water market. We find that realized gains from trade are on average higher when options can be traded, by 11% in competitive markets and by 21% in dominant buyer markets. Findings in this analysis may assist policymakers in preparing for the next multi-year drought in California.

Issue Date:
Publication Type:
Conference Paper/ Presentation
PURL Identifier:
Total Pages:
Series Statement:
Selected Paper 172868

 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2017-04-26

Download fulltext

Rate this document:

Rate this document:
(Not yet reviewed)