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Reason Foundation

Chinatown Revisited

Leonard Gilroy
January 14, 2005, 9:15am

The Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) has released an interesting paper detailing the first large-scale, market-based exchange of water rights in the American West -- the early 20th century transfers of water from California's Owens Valley to the young and growing city of Los Angeles. The L.A.-Owens Valley water trades were extremely contentious at the time, with scorching negotiations between the city's Water Board and rural landowners and even periodic violence. Movie buffs will certainly remember the Owens Valley trades as they were immortalized in the Jack Nicholson/Faye Dunaway classic, Chinatown. PERC revisits this interesting piece of history to separate fact from fiction and provide some lessons for the future: The paper identifies three main obstacles to water marketing: Grab a bag of popcorn, and read the whole thing.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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