SNAPP: Sharing Water

Water Transactions to Enhance Streamflow, Water Supply Reliability, and Rural Economic Viability

Principal Investigator(s): 

Eloise Kendy, Andrew Purkey

Over-allocation of water for agricultural, municipal, and industrial use severely depletes streamflow across the American West, degrading aquatic and riparian ecosystems, and posing economic risk to sectors that depend on reliable water supplies. Voluntary water transactions and agreements present a significant opportunity to restore streamflow and enhance water supply reliability within the prior appropriation system. Although water transactions are taking place in many western watersheds, they have not translated into widespread improvements in ecological or water supply resiliency and, in some cases, have hurt rural economies.

This working group offers a novel approach to incentivize water transactions that collectively restore streamflow and reduce economic risk associated with water shortages, while maintaining agricultural economies. This contrasts with conventional water transaction programs in which environmental water trusts prioritize environmental benefits and municipalities permanently acquire water rights. These approaches benefit buyers and sellers, but not the rural communities from which water rights are obtained. The team hypothesizes that multipurpose, integrated water transaction programs will attract new conservation partners, including urban and industrial water users, to restore streamflow.

The working group will synthesize available ecological, hydrological, water use, regulatory, and economic data in two to four pilot watersheds, to evaluate system benefits generated by different combinations of innovative water transactions. The main outputs will be: 1) a generalized protocol for evaluating the extent to which water transactions meet multiple objectives (e.g., environmental, agricultural, urban), including flow restoration, water supply reliability, and rural economic viability; 2) in the pilot watersheds, a comparison of benefits resulting from multi-objective versus single- objective transaction programs under both existing and ideal regulatory regimes; 3) implementation of pilot program plans to incentivize and manage integrated, multi-objective transactions; and 4) a strategic plan to leverage our work by transferring our technical approach to other watershed groups and by partnering with major water users to finance big, multi-objective transactions.

This project is supported by the Science for Nature and People Partnership (SNAPP), generously funded through founding grants by Shirley and Harry Hagey, Steve and Roberta Denning, Seth Neiman, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Ward W. and Priscilla B. Woods, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

More information for project participants Visit the SNAPP website