Western Governors Association report: Water Transfers in the West

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You can download a copy here. Here’s the release (Tom Iseman/Tony Willardson):

The Western Governors today released a report, Water Transfers in the West, which provides an overview on how the region can help meet growing demands for water with voluntary market-based sales and leases of water rights.

“Voluntary water transfers have occurred for decades,” said Governor Gary R. Herbert (Utah), Chairman of the Western Governors’ Association. “But with so many new citizens and industries settling in the water-scarce West, now is the time to evaluate how we use transfers in our approach to providing water.”

A water transfer, as defined in this report, is a voluntary agreement that results in a change in the type, time or place of use of a water right. Water transfers can take the form of a sale, lease or donation and they can move water among agricultural, municipal, industrial energy and environmental uses.

Water transfers are one component of a suite of tools Western water managers can use to meet new demands from changes in farming practices, energy development, and urbanization. States can also develop new infrastructure and storage (such as dams), conservation and efficiency, and water reuse projects.

“There is no magic wand or silver bullet when it comes to meeting water supply, only well-informed decision making,” said Jennifer Gimbel, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. “This report will help states learn from each other’s experiences with water transfers in order to make the best decisions for each state’s water future.”

Water transfers offer a means to “re-purpose” existing water resources for new uses. Since farmers hold many of the West’s senior water rights, the Governors passed a policy in 2011 advocating that states “identify and promote innovative ways to allow water transfers from other uses … while avoiding or mitigating damages to agricultural economies and communities.” The report also addresses ways to mitigate impacts to the environment.

The report is a product of a year-long project in partnership with the Western States Water Council (WSWC), a group of top water administrators in the Western states. The Western Governors’ Association and WSWC convened three stakeholder workshops with more than 100 participants from July to December of 2011. The meetings drew state administrators, environmental organizations, farmers, academics, and water resource professionals from across the West, providing diverse perspectives on water transfers.

“The balanced approach to water transfers advocated for in the WSWC report is the same philosophy that must be advanced on an even larger scale here in the West,” said Patrick O’Toole, President of the Family Farm Alliance and a workshop participant. “Transfers are a way of meeting short-term water challenges, but they are only one instrument in a much broader suite of tools that also must include water conservation and modern infrastructure to store and move water.”

Rather than providing a “one-size-fits-all” blueprint for states to follow, Water Transfers in the West highlights successful transfers and innovative practices to allow Western states to learn from their collective experiences and take advantage of the “lessons learned.” The report also recognizes that each state’s individual circumstances will determine how it should address transfers. It addresses only transfers within states, and not interstate transfers.

“Transfers are already occurring in all of the Western states, and many state water administrators say that transfers will continue to play a vital role in the way they meet demands,” said Tony Willardson, Executive Director of the Western States Water Council (WSWC). “WSWC and WGA will continue to provide states with information on how to take advantage of the decentralized and flexible nature of transfers while avoiding or mitigating any negative effects of transfers.”

WGA and WSWC will continue their work on water transfers following the release of the report.

The report, titled Water Transfers in the West: Projects, Trends, and Leading Practices in Voluntary Water Trading is available for download online at westgov.org/water. Information from past stakeholder workshops, an executive summary, and perspectives from stakeholders are also available online.

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