Since its inception, NHI has been a leader in the formulation and enforcement of environmental regulations and planning mechanisms. Yet, we recognize that the conventional tools for resolving resource conflicts, while necessary, are no longer sufficient to move beyond the prevention of harm to the restoration of natural processes and from engineered to non-structural patterns of resource management.
While it is inevitable that water resources will continue to be developed to meet genuine and growing needs for water supplies and hydropower around the world, it is not inevitable that further development need come at the expense of aquatic ecosystems and the services that they provide. Indeed, water supply augmentation schemes can serve as an opportunity and vehicle for initiatives to restore more natural flow regimes and aquatic habitats. A new paradigm is emerging in California, the Great Lakes region, Australia, South Africa, and in a few other places in the world in which major water projects – both infrastructure and transfers – are only likely to be politically viable and eligible for public financing if they incorporate a net environmental restoration component. The converse also is likely to be true: substantial new aquatic ecosystem restoration will probably only be accomplishable as a component of broader water supply enhancement schemes.
NHI is working to make that emerging paradigm a universal reality. This work envisions devising and implementing the next generation of market transactions in environmental water rights. Beyond the creation and acquisition of instream flows, we will design transactions involving reservoir storage rights, groundwater banking rights, infrastructure reoperation rights, flood inundation rights, water transfers with an environmental component and a myriad of other devices, some of which now exist only in theory.
Examples of the new generation of tools that NHI has devised include:
- Designing advanced information management systems to illuminate the sustainable pathways for river basins in California’s Central Valley and the multi-jurisdictional river basins at the U.S. border and in Africa.
- Instituting an electronic water market in the San Joaquin Valley to facilitate district-to-district water trades as a mechanism for efficiency improvements.
- Devising plans to reoperate storage reservoirs in conjunction with groundwater banks to both increase water supplies and enable environmental flows to be released into the downstream river system, such as in the Central and Sacramento Valleys of California.
- Originating the concept of a “water district for the environment,” which was implemented in the California Delta as the “Environmental Water Account.” The EWA is now the largest purchaser of water in California. Through prudent use of its property rights in water and its storage and delivery infrastructure, the EWA can dictate water diversion patterns to benefit aquatic species and improve flow conditions. It provides an adaptive strategy that allows for complex and unpredictable interactions between biological health, the water delivery system, and heavily altered aquatic ecosystems.