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Overview

Water in the West (a joint program of the Woods Institute and the Lane Center for the American West) is working with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) on research related to water rights transactions that restore water to the environment. Rivers in the western United States are subject to significant water withdrawals that have had major impacts on the health of their ecosystems.

In an effort to restore the health of such rivers, a number of conservation groups have begun to facilitate voluntary transactions to restore water to the environment, such as acquiring water rights and funding irrigation efficiency improvements. NFWF has extensive experience with these efforts through its funding of the Columbia Basin Water Transaction Program and implementation of the Walker Basin Restoration Program, and intends to expand its efforts to other parts of the West. It faces the challenge of deciding where to invest funds and resources in order to achieve the greatest conservation benefits for available dollars.

Students in this policy lab assisted NFWF in the development of an assessment methodology for identifying and analyzing watersheds in the western United States as potential locations for expanding its efforts. Our work will focus on evaluating western states in terms of the extent to which they allow the transfer of water rights for environmental use and in terms of the regulatory, financial, and social hurdles such transactions face in each state. Students also analyzed data related to stream flow alteration and worked with NFWF to integrate this information into its broader assessment. Finally, they worked with NFWF staff to integrate their research into the NFWF’s broader assessment and helped the group evaluate specific candidate watersheds.