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Cornell University




Louis Sears awarded McCorkle Scholarship by the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association


Cornell University DEEP-GREEN-RADAR Graduate Research Associate Louis Sears was selected by the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) -- the leading organization for agricultural, development, environmental, food and consumer, natural resource, regional, rural, and associated areas of applied economics and business -- to be the recipient of the 2019 Chester O. McCorkle, Jr. Student Scholarship.

For his research, Louis is tackling the important issue of sustainable agricultural groundwater management. Water is one of our world's most essential natural resources, but it is also a resource that is becoming increasingly scarce. The agricultural use of groundwater is particularly important to manage sustainably and well. Louis is analyzing multiple dimensions of this critical issue using sophisticated and frontier theoretical and empirical methods in natural resource economics, optimal control theory, dynamic programming, game theory, contract theory, structural econometrics, and spatial econometrics. Louis' research has important implications for policy-makers, the agricultural industry, natural resources, and society.

For his research, Louis is developing and estimating a structural econometric model of the dynamic and strategic groundwater extraction and irrigation capital investment decision-making behavior of farmers, water districts, and other groundwater users in California. He is using the estimated parameters to analyze the factors that affect the groundwater extraction and irrigation capital investment decisions of farmers, water districts, and other groundwater users. He is using the estimated parameters to simulate the effects of government policies; changing hydrology; and various climate scenarios, including prolonged droughts and extreme flooding events, on groundwater extraction, crop choice, irrigation capital investment, and net benefits to society.

In one paper, Louis uses a detailed spatial panel dataset to estimate a structural econometric model of the dynami cgame between groundwater users in the Beaumont Basin in Southern California during a period of open access. He takes advantage of variation across players over space and over time in key hydrological and economic drivers of groundwater extraction to identify parameters of the payoff functions of agricultural, recreational, and municipal users. He uses his parameter estimates to simulate a counterfactual scenario of continued open access, and compare his open access counter-factual with the actual extraction decisions of players after the institution of quantified property rights.

Louis' research is significant for several reasons. First, a better understanding of the dynamic and strategic groundwater extraction and irrigation capital investment decision-making behavior of farmers and the effects of government policies on this behavior and its outcomes is particularly important for the optimal design of regional government policy for long-range improvement in and sustainability of California's water system, for agricultural sustainability, and for climate adaptation. If policy-makers do not account for water users' behavioral responses to their policies, their policies may have perverse consequences.

Second, the use of a structural econometric model of the dynamic game among and between agricultural producers to model the dynamic and strategic groundwater extraction and irrigation capital investment decision-making behavior of water users is novel and at the frontier of the academic literature. The results of his structural econometric model will provide valuable insight into how to design regional policies and institutions so that the decision-making behavior and outcome that are realized increase social welfare.

Louis has already published several peer-reviewed papers. In one peer-reviewed publication that was featured in the Cornell Chronicle, Louis develops a game theory model to analyze regional spatial externalities among farmers sharing an aquifer. In another peer-reviewed publication, Louis is analyzing possible perverse consequences from California's groundwater management policies.

Louis's peer-reviewed publications also include a paper on Jevons' Paradox and efficient irrigation technology in Sustainability, in its Special Issue of the journal Sustainability on "Sustainable Agriculture: The State of the Great Debates"; a book chapter on water management and economics in The Routledge Handbook of Agricultural Economics; and an outreach publication that has generated much media attention .

Louis also has a paper developing an analytic and numerical dynamic game model of interjurisdictional externalities among groundwater managers; and a paper developing an analytic and numerical dynamic model to examine inefficiencies that arise from California's dual property rights system for groundwater rights.

Louis has presented his research at several prestigious conferences, including the North American Meetings of the Regional Science Association International (NARSC) in Vancouver; the Canadian Resource and Environmental Economics (CREE) Study Group Annual Conference; a conference celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Douglass North's Nobel Prize in Economics; the Annual Meeting of the Society for Environmental Law and Economics at Notre Dame Law School in Chicago; the Mid-Continent Regional Science Association (MCRSA) 50th Annual Conference; the Northeastern Agricultural and Resource Economics Association (NAREA) Annual Meeting; the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association (AAEA) Annual Meeting; an Association of Environmental and Resource Economists (AERE) session at the Western Economic Association International (WEAI) Annual Conference; and the 67th North American Meetings of the Regional Science Association International (NARSC) Virtual Conference. Louis was also one of the speakers selected by Cornell Undergraduate Research Board (CURB) to present at their lecture on 'In Your Own Backyard: Innovative Perspectives on the Environment', to an audience of Cornell undergraduate students interested in learning about research and his research.

Louis has received several prestigious awards for his research. In addition to the 2019 Chester O. McCorkle, Jr. Student Scholarship, he was won the 2020 Northeastern Agricultural and Resource Economics Association (NAREA) Best Student Paper Award; and the George F. Warren Award for Outstanding Paper, Second Place. He has also been awarded 3 separate Cornell University Graduate School Conference Grants, the Cornell University Ching Endowment Summer Fellowship, and the Robert R. Dyson Fellowship.


For further reading:

  • Sears, Louis, and C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell. (2019). Water management and economics. In Gail L. Cramer, Krishna P. Paudel, and Andrew Schmitz (Eds.), The Routledge Handbook of Agricultural Economics (pp. 269-284). London: Routledge.
    [Manuscript] [Publication]
  • Sears, Louis, C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell, and M. Todd Walter. (2021). Groundwater under open access: A structural model of the dynamic common pool extraction game. Working paper, Cornell University.
    [Working paper]
  • Sears, Louis, and C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell. (2021). Dual rights to groundwater: Theory and application to California. Working paper, Cornell University.
    [Working paper]
  • Sears, Louis, David Lim, and C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell. (2019). Spatial groundwater management: A dynamic game framework and application to California. Water Economics and Policy, 5 (1), 1850019.
    [Working paper] [Published paper]
  • Sears, Louis, David Lim, and C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell. (2017). Agricultural groundwater management in California: Possible perverse consequences? Agricultural and Resource Economics Update, 20 (3), 1-3.
    [Publication]
  • Sears, Louis, C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell, David Lim, Gerald Torres, and M. Todd Walter. (2021). Interjurisdictional spatial externalities in groundwater management. Working paper, Cornell University.
    [Working paper]
  • Sears, Louis, David Lim, and C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell. (2018). The economics of agricultural groundwater management institutions: The case of California. Water Economics and Policy, 4 (3), 1850003.
    [Manuscript] [Published paper]
  • Sears, Louis, Joseph Caparelli, Clouse Lee, Devon Pan, Gillian Strandberg, Linh Vuu, and C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell. (2018). Jevons' Paradox and efficient irrigation technology. Sustainability, 10 (5), 1590.
    [Manuscript] [Published paper]
  • Sears, Louis, C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell, Gerald Torres, and M. Todd Walter. (2021). Managing common pool resources: Lessons from groundwater resource extraction in California. Working paper, Cornell University.
    [Working paper]
  • Sears, Louis, Ernst Bertone Oehninger, David Lim, and C.-Y. Cynthia Lin Lawell. (2021). The economics of sustainable agricultural groundwater management: Recent findings. Working paper, Cornell University.
    [Working paper]