Governments have a significant role to play to ensure property rights support markets and competition (WSJ):
A major overhaul of Western water law is overdue, but implementing such reform would take years. In the near term, states should authorize short-term leases of water, build basic market institutions, deploy risk-mitigation tools such as dry-year options, and implement basic controls such as regulating how much water can be pumped. The current absence of viable market opportunities and incentives is producing perverse results.
[...] Even though federal and state policy fosters the export of agricultural commodities, Western water law generally inhibits trade in the water used to grow the commodities. States should open up the market by eliminating or streamlining legal barriers that effectively block transfers of water.
A market in water would encourage efficiency by stimulating innovation, promoting specialization and allowing water to move from lower-value to higher-value uses. Farmers who have an opportunity to trade a portion of their water have an incentive to take measures, such as installing more efficient irrigation systems, to free up water for trade. It would also create opportunities to deploy market-based tools, such as dry-year options, to help mitigate water risks to farms and cities.
For example, under a dry-year option, a water user with a low tolerance for water shortages—such as an almond farmer whose trees would quickly die without water—can contract with a seasonal agricultural user, such as a broccoli grower. In dry years, the almond producer would have the right to use the broccoli grower’s water. The almond producer pays a yearly premium to guard against times when water shortages would result in the loss of his orchard. The proceeds from the option give the broccoli grower a guaranteed revenue stream and thereby provide a hedge against a drought that might destroy his annual crop—mitigating risk for both parties.