Judging by the headlines and court cases, it is practically impossible to transfer water in California without first wading through years of red tape and litigation. Issues related to endangered species, conveyance, and third-party impacts preclude all but the largest and most profitable agriculture-to-municipal transfers. Or so it seems.
Without much fuss or fanfare, the Scott River Water Trust in Siskiyou County has pioneered the use of low-volume, low-cost water leases to enhance environmental flows. The trust pays farmers along the Scott River and its tributaries to leave water instream for salmon and steelhead, particularly during periods of drought and low flows.
The success of the Scott River Water Trust can be replicated throughout California, despite all of the red tape entangling instream flow transfers. This case also demonstrates how water markets can facilitate both economic growth and municipal development while also enhancing environmental flows and strengthening agricultural communities.