My dissertation (and subsequent related work) examined technological change and water use in the spread of irrigated farming in the Northern High Plains.  Other aspects of water policy I've been involved in include nonpoint source pollution from to nutrients and pesticides, the relationship between resource conservation and water quality, and human health risks from water pollution, and flood control policy.

Some highlights of my research in this area are:

Research Results


Potential earnings from permits sales may provide an incentive for farmers to accept water quality regulation.  We show that it is optimal to adjust point/nonpoint effluent trading ratios for heterogeneity in marginal environmental damage and degradation/retention of the pollutant across locations in a watershed.  A simulation based on data from the Kymi River Valley, Finland indicates that farmers are the greatest suppliers of permits, as expected, but that gains from trading vary substantially.  Some farmers may become net buyers of permits and thus net losers from regulation.  The benefits of effluent trading are distributed unevenly among point sources as well.

Lankoski, Jussi, Erik Lichtenberg, and Markku Ollikainen, "Point/Nonpoint Effluent Trading with Spatial Heterogeneity",  American Journal of Agricultural Economics, forthcoming.

Prevention is not always more cost effective and precautionary than ex post treatment. A greater degree of precaution can result in less reliance on prevention. An empirical case study indicates that treatment alone is the most cost effective means of dealing with nitrate in most Maryland community water system wells. The incremental cost of precaution is substantial.

Lichtenberg, Erik and Tony M. Penn,  “Prevention versus Treatment Under Precautionary Regulation: A Case Study of Groundwater Contamination Under Uncertainty”, American Journal of Agricultural Economics 85, 44-58 (February 2003).

On average, corn and soybean growers in the Mid-Atlantic report the same degrees of concern about environmental risks associated with pesticide use as the general public.  But farmers as a group seem more polarized in their attitudes than the general public.  These farmers are  willing to spend more on pesticides that won't leach into groundwater.  Growers who have experienced adverse health effects from pesticides (either directly or indirectly) have heightened concern about environmental and occupational safety problems arising from pesticide use and are more likely to use certain non-chemical control practices.   

Lichtenberg, Erik and Rae Zimmerman, “Information and Farmers’ Attitudes About Pesticides, Water Quality, and Related Environmental Effects”, Agriculture, Ecosystems, and Environment 73, 227-236 (1999).  

Lichtenberg, Erik and Rae Zimmerman, “Farmers’ Willingness to Pay for Groundwater Protection”, Water Resources Research 35, 833-841 (March 1999).

Lichtenberg, Erik and Rae Zimmerman, “Adverse Health Effects, Environmental Attitudes, and Pesticide Usage Behavior of Farm Operators” Risk Analysis 19, 189-211 (April 1999).  

Upstream polluters may force downstream agents to clean up more pollution than is socially optimal.  Long run equilibrium levels of a stock pollutant will also tend to be higher, especially if the pollutant degrades slowly.  An empirical example using parameters relating to phosphorus pollution of the Chesapeake Bay illustrates the magnitudes of these effects.

Lichtenberg, Erik, and Lars J. Olson, “Noncooperative and Cooperative Management of an Accumulative Water Pollutant”, in Richard E. Just and Sinaia Netanyahu (ed.), Conflict and Cooperation in Transboundary Water Resources.  Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishing, 1998.

Corn and poultry production are positively correlated with elevated nitrate concentrations in Maryland community water system wells.

Lichtenberg, Erik and Lisa K. Shapiro, “Agriculture and Nitrate Concentrations in Maryland Community Water System Wells”, Journal of Environmental Quality 26, 145-153 (January-February 1997).

Water storage and commodity storage can be substitutes.

Just, Richard, Erik Lichtenberg and David Zilberman, “Partial versus General Storage Policy: Commodities and Resources”, Natural Resources Modeling 8, 273-292 (1995).

The recommendations of the Clinton Administration's Interagency Floodplain Management Task Force fails to grapple with the perverse incentives created by disaster assistance programs.

Lichtenberg, Erik “Sharing the Challenge?  An Economist*s View”, Water Resources Update 97 (Autumn 1994).

Adoption of water-saving irrigation technologies may be a cost-effective means of solving drainage problems in irrigated farming areas with perched water table problems.

Shah, Farhed, David Zilberman and Erik Lichtenberg, "Optimal Combination of Pollution Prevention and Abatement Policies: The Case of Agricultural Drainage", Environmental and Resource Economics 5, 29-49 (1995).

Caswell, Margriet F., Erik Lichtenberg and David Zilberman, "The Effects of Pricing Policies on Water Conservation and Drainage", American Journal of Agricultural Economics 72, 883-890 (November 1990).

Farmers in the Northern High Plains tend to use center-pivot irrigation systems on low-quality land (sandy soils) that is more vulnerable to groundwater contamination.  Commodity price supports may exacerbate problems of groundwater quality and excessive depletion of groundwater stocks in fossil aquifers.

Just, Richard E., Erik Lichtenberg and David Zilberman, "Effects of the Feed Grain and Wheat Programs on Irrigation and Groundwater Depletion in Nebraska", in Richard E. Just and Nancy Bockstael (ed.), Commodity and Resource Policies in Agricultural Systems.  New York: Springer-Verlag, 1991.

Lichtenberg, Erik, "Land Quality, Irrigation Development and Cropping Patterns in the Northern High Plains", American Journal of Agricultural Economics 71, 187-194 (February 1989).

Increasing the margin of safety used to accommodate uncertainty about health effects of water contamination can increase the costs risk reduction substantially.  Uniform regulation can be significantly more costly than regulation differentiated on the basis of observed indicators of contamination levels.

Lichtenberg, Erik, "Determination of Regional Environmental Policy Under Uncertainty: Theory and Case Studies", in Ariel Dinar and David Zilberman (ed.), Issues in the Economics and Management of Agricultural Drainage Water.  Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishing, 1991.

Lichtenberg, Erik, David Zilberman and Kenneth T. Bogen, "Regulating Environmental Health Risks Under Uncertainty:  Groundwater Contamination in California", Journal of Environmental Economics and Management 17, 22-34 (July 1989).

Lichtenberg, Erik and David Zilberman, "Regulation of Marine Contamination Under Environmental Uncertainty:  Shellfish Contamination in California," Marine Resource Economics 4, 211-225 (1988).

Lichtenberg, Erik and David Zilberman, "Efficient Regulation of Environmental Health Risks", Quarterly Journal of Economics 49, 167-178 (February 1988).