Water in the West: Diverse Tools for Conserving our Rivers and Communities

by: Posted on: June 30, 2012

Photo: Trout Unlimited – Washington Water Project

By: Szilvia Rideg, Project Associate, Trout Unlimited – Washington Water Project

Nobody likes to see a dry river; not farmers, not ranchers and certainly not fish. A river without water, or without adequate flow, serves no-one’s purposes. Alternatively, healthy rivers and streams support a diversity of agricultural, environmental, recreational, cultural, aesthetic and sensible development needs and uses. Unfortunately in the arid West, creeks, streams, and rivers are annually diverted and many of these key fish-bearing tributaries are left dry. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Trout Unlimited’s Washington Water Project (TU-WWP) is active in Washington’s communities statewide, providing water rights expertise, including negotiating and facilitating the transfer of water to instream flow. TU-WWP provides landowners with a multitude of tools for efficient water use and innovative and flexible water management. TU-WWP staff work confidentially with interested parties from start to finish to help them reach a resolution that will meet their needs, as well as conserve water for environmental benefits.

Some of the diverse tools available for willing landowners are:

  • Water Right Education: TU-WWP provides a comprehensive reference guide, as well as water rights workshops on the basics of understanding one’s Washington State water right, something that is usually more difficult than it sounds due the complex nature of Washington water law. We also provide evaluations of water rights for public entities and private individuals without threat of regulatory repercussions.
  • Irrigation Efficiency Upgrades: TU-WWP assists in securing federal Farm Bill funds and other sources of funding to upgrade inefficient irrigation systems. All water that is conserved from these upgrades is permanently placed into the Washington State Trust Water Program as instream flow for environmental benefit.
  • Withdrawal Source-Switches and Surface to Groundwater Changes: Sometimes it makes sense to withdraw water from an alternative source; TU-WWP can help assess if there would be mutual benefit for a water user and instream flow to switch to a different surface or in-ground water source.  This tool is often used in conjunction with Irrigation Efficiency Upgrades, thereby providing the landowner with dual benefit, while increasing instream flow for fish.
  • Split Season Leases and Purchases: Often, changes in land use, family and business structure, and ownership of water rights change the associated water needs as well. TU-WWP offers multiple options for conserving water rights for people and water for fish. Currently, when people do not exercise their water right in Washington, they risk losing it, which encourages people to use water even when they don’t need it. In order to work around this we facilitate single or multi-year leasing, drought-year leasing, and partial and full purchase of people’s water rights. These, along with our other tools, give landowners compelling incentives to not use water when they don’t need it.
  • Reverse Auctions: TU-WWP is the Washington leader in facilitating reverse auctions of water rights.  Reverse auctions are effective in sub-basins where groups of water right holders on a stream are interested in conservation. TU-WWP facilitates the process for landowners to lease or sell water rights to be placed in the Washington Department of Ecology’s Trust Water Rights Program.
  • Salmon-Safe Certification: TU-WWP’s Salmon-Safe Certification offers the leading sustainable land practices certification program for landowners in Central and Eastern Washington. Certification involves a lands assessment and the adoption of identified best-management practices. This program helps environmentally conscious producers get the recognition and targeted marketing assistance they deserve. Salmon-Safe is the leading market-based conservation program devoted to restoring rural and urban watersheds so that salmon can spawn and thrive.

Additionally, TU-WWP:

  • Provides expertise and technical assistance to local watershed planning groups, conservation districts, and others on water rights and water rights acquisition,
  • Partners with land trusts, state and federal agencies and tribal entities to promote voluntary, market-based approaches, and
  • Promotes and develops effective policies and programs to ensure Washington’s rivers and streams are healthy while benefiting agriculture, jobs, fisheries and water quality.

TU-WWP staff bring over 20 years of experience towards these and other methods of providing win-win solutions to communities regarding their water use. Recently completed projects include the upgrade of a major irrigation system in the Methow Valley, and the first ever reverse auction with water right holders on Manastash Creek in the Yakima sub-basin.

Formed in 1959, Trout Unlimited is the nation’s premier coldwater conservation organization.


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.