The Illiquidity of Water Markets: Efficient Institutions for Water Allocation in Southeastern Spain

63 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2015 Last revised: 1 Mar 2017

Javier Donna

Ohio State University (OSU) - Economics

José-Antonio Espín-Sánchez

Yale University; Yale University - Cowles Foundation

Date Written: September 28, 2016


Water is an essential good for human life but there is controversy over whether it should be allocated using markets. In 1966, the irrigation community in Mula (Murcia, Spain) switched from a market institution, a 700 year old auction, to a system of fixed quotas with a ban on trading to allocate water from the town’s river. We present a dynamic demand model in which farmers face liquidity constraints (LC) to explain why the new, non-market institution is more efficient. We show that ignoring the presence of LC biases the estimated (inverse) demand and demand elasticity downwards. We use the dynamic demand model and data from the auction period to estimate both farmers’ demand for water and their financial constraints, thus obtaining unbiased estimates. In our model, markets achieve the first-best allocation only in the absence of LC. By contrast, quotas achieve the first-best allocation only if farmers are homogeneous in productivity. We compute welfare under both types of institutions using the estimated parameters. We find that the quota is more efficient than the market.

Keywords: Institutions, Financial Markets, Demand, Dynamics, Market Efficiency, Water

JEL Classification: D02, D53, L11, L13, G14, Q25

Suggested Citation

Donna, Javier and Espin-Sanchez, Jose-Antonio, The Illiquidity of Water Markets: Efficient Institutions for Water Allocation in Southeastern Spain (September 28, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

Javier Donna (Contact Author)

Ohio State University (OSU) - Economics ( email )

410 Arps Hall
1945 N. High St.
Columbus, OH 43210-1172
United States

Jose-Antonio Espin-Sanchez

Yale University ( email )

28 Hillhouse Ave
New Haven, CT 06520-8268
United States
2034320890 (Phone)


Yale University - Cowles Foundation

Box 208281
New Haven, CT 06520-8281
United States

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