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Can Allocation-Based Water Rates Promote Conservation and Increase Welfare? A California Case Study


An allocation-based rate (ABR) is a special type of increasing block rate (IBR) price structure that is receiving increased attention from urban water suppliers in places like California where population growth and climate change continue to increase water scarcity. Previous work by Baerenklau et al. [Baerenklau, KA, KA Schwabe and A Dinar (2014a). Allocation-based water pricing promotes conservation while keeping user costs low. Agricultural and Resource Economics Update, 17(6), 1–14; Baerenklau, KA, KA Schwabe and A Dinar (2014b). The residential water demand effect of increasing block rate water budgets. Land Economics, 90(4), 683–699.] investigates the conservation potential of ABR and finds that consumption under ABR was 10–15% below that of a comparable uniform rate structure for a southern California case study. This paper extends that work by using the discrete–continuous choice framework to estimate household-level welfare effects of ABR for the same dataset. We find that despite the observed decrease in consumption, average household welfare actually increased under ABR due to its non-linear structure. We also find that similar results would have been achievable with a simpler standard IBR structure. While either of these block rate structures is welfare-preferred to uniform price and quantity instruments, neither clearly dominates the other.

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