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National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis

Project Description

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.

Working Group Participants

Principal Investigator(s)

Eloise Kendy, Andrew Purkey, Brian Richter

Project Dates

Start: March 1, 2015

End: June 30, 2018



Peter R Anderson
Trout Unlimited
Bruce Aylward
Ecosystem Economics LLC
Julien Brun
University of California, Santa Barbara
Jennifer Carah
The Nature Conservancy
Bonnie Colby
University of Arizona
Peter Culp
Squire Patton Boggs
Mark Davidson
Trout Unlimited
Tim Davis
Montana State Government
Cary Denison
Trout Unlimited
Aaron Derwingson
The Nature Conservancy
Will B Dicharry
The Nature Conservancy
Ted Grantham
Fort Collins Science Center, USGS
Dayna Gross
The Nature Conservancy
Dave Kanzer
Colorado River Water Conservation District
Carrie V. Kappel
University of California, Santa Barbara
Eloise Kendy
The Nature Conservancy
Clay Landry
WestWater Research LLC
Lain Leoniak
City of Bozeman
Season Martin
The Nature Conservancy
Bryan Mcfadin
California Regional Water Quality Control Board
Ron Nelson
Emily Powell
The Nature Conservancy
Andrew Purkey
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Brian Richter
The Nature Conservancy
John L. Sabo
Arizona State University
Leslie Sanchez
Tufts University
Nancy Smith
The Nature Conservancy
Deborah Stephenson
DMS Natural Resources
Leon Szeptycki
Stanford University
Laura Ziemer
Trout Unlimited


  1. Presentations / 2016

    SNAPP indicators of multi-objective water transaction benefits

  2. Journal Article / 2018

    Water Transactions for Streamflow Restoration, Water Supply Reliability, and Rural Economic Vitality in the Western United States

  3. Report or White Paper / 2017

    Indicator guidebook for water transaction programs