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Saving Our Streams: Harnessing Water Markets

  • Hertha Lund,
  • Brandon Scarborough
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    Declining stream flows throughout the West are threatening critical fish and other wildlife populations, recreational opportunities, and the health and aesthetic beauty of riparian ecosystems. As populations continue to grow, so too does the need to remove water from streams to meet urban needs. The dilemma is how to protect instream flows and still meet growing demand for out-of-stream uses that are helping to enrich local economies.

    The solution: water markets. Federal and state agencies and conservation groups dedicated to restoring stream flows are increasingly turning to markets to connect willing buyers and sellers of water rights. Throughout much of the West, water rights are tradable and can be bought, leased, or donated for environmental purposes.

    This handbook is a guide for policymakers, environmentalists, farmers and ranchers, agency officials, and others who are passionate about restoring instream flows through voluntary markets. Between 1998 and 2005, markets have grown significantly in many western states; while in others, political, legal and even social barriers have inhibited their development.

    This booklet details the following:

    • A comprehensive look at the state of water markets
    • The legal foundation of water rights and laws that influence markets
    • State–by–state survey of legislation and market activity
    • Advice for willing buyers and sellers
    • Market participants and fair market values for instream flows
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