Environmental Water Transactions
Water in the West and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) convened an Uncommon Dialogue on Voluntary Instream Flow Transactions at Stanford University on January 15-16, 2014. The dialogue brought leading practitioners, funders, and thinkers in the field of environmental water transactions together with faculty and staff from Stanford University to foster wide-ranging and open discussion of lessons learned from the last 20 years of work implementing environmental water transactions in the West and of future opportunities to build on that work.
Voluntary instream flow transactions have become an important conservation tool in a number of western states. Water rights transfers, leases, and other agreements have dramatically improved the health of scores of streams, riparian areas and wetlands, particularly small streams that serve as important spawning habitat. Nonetheless, in light of the extent of over-allocation of water, the footprint of these transactions is still modest, consistent funding is available in relatively few places, and transaction costs, regulatory hurdles, and social resistance remain high in many states. Freshwater ecosystems and dependent species face the dual future threats of increasing water demand and a changing climate that could alter the historical hydrograph.
This dialogue identified key issues for expanding and growing the use of water rights transactions for water restoration in the West, including funding, policy reform, and research, all in the context of these coming strains on water supplies and freshwater ecosystems. Focal areas for the dialogue included NFWF’s proposed expansion of its Western Water Program and its draft assessment methodology for that program was discussed, a discussion of policy tools across western states that have either worked exceptionally well to promote voluntary water restoration or that have frustrated and impeded such projects, and potential long-term strategies for improving state laws and programs governing these water transactions.
Obstacles and Opportunities in State Water Right Change Process: