Gathering Information to Access Instream Flow Transactions
Water transactions are increasingly used in water management strategies to help balance competing demands of limited water resources across the western United States. A water transaction describes an agreement between two parties to transfer a specific water volume to the buyer from the seller and provide a mechanism to apply water to alternative uses (e.g., instream environmental flows) in otherwise restrictive water right or regulatory frameworks. Water transaction programs, such as the Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program, have demonstrated how incentive-based approaches can successfully bring water resource use into balance with the natural ecosystem while preserving existing water rights. However, while the concept and potential of water transactions are becoming more widely understood, in practice, the actual benefit of these water transactions has at times been poorly quantified. By clearly quantifying the benefit of these water transactions, potential opportunities can be identified to successfully navigate through complex water resources challenges.
To address this need, The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) partnered with the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) through a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) to develop a standardized and targeted methodology to help quantify and evaluate the environmental effects of instream flow transactions. Over a three-year period from 2011-2013, NFWF collaborated with a range of water users and stakeholders throughout northern California and Oregon to study experimental transactions for the purpose of developing monitoring protocols to support emerging water markets. These monitoring protocols focus on three stream characteristics and describe how to assess the effect of a water transaction using data collected through a monitoring program that is designed specifically to monitor the effectiveness of water transactions.
This water transaction monitoring protocol handbook begins by presenting some background information about water transactions, examples of environmental objectives, and a conceptual description of their general spatial and temporal scale – that is, how the stream reaches affected by the transaction is defined, and the potential period when a transaction can occur. Next, an overview is presented of how a monitoring program that is designed for a transaction differs from more typical monitoring programs that are designed to monitor general stream conditions. Then, each stream characteristic is identified that can be used to evaluate a water transaction using these protocols. For each characteristic, an assessment tool, the tool’s data needs, and monitoring approaches to address those data needs are identified. Finally, a summary is presented of how these protocols can be used to quantify the effects of a water transaction. Appendices with example monitoring methodologies, equipment, and data sheets for each stream characteristic are also included. With these protocols, experienced technical professionals can develop monitoring programs that provided the data needed to assess the effect of those transactions.