Throughout the American West, an intense demand for water—for agriculture and other human uses—jeopardizes the health of our rivers, streams, and lakes. Fish and wildlife communities that depend on these water sources are increasingly stressed as consumptive demands rise and an extended drought takes its toll.
NFWF’s Western Water Program works with willing sellers and other stakeholders to acquire and transfer established water rights to improve critical water flows in streams, lakes, wetlands, and riparian areas. These voluntary transactions include a wealth of negotiated agreements that help to maintain and restore critical freshwater habitats while addressing the needs of farmers and ranchers and the communities in which they live.
The Western Water Program currently includes five major place-based initiatives:
- Columbia Basin Water Transactions Program - This joint effort of NFWF and the Bonneville Power Administration began in 2002 to support program partners who assist farmers, ranchers, and irrigation districts with innovative, voluntary transactions to improve streamflows to benefit fish and wildlife habitat in the Columbia Basin states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.
- Walker Basin Restoration Program - In 2009, NFWF was named by Congress to oversee the Walker Basin Restoration Program (WBRP), a comprehensive basin-wide initiative whose primary purpose is the restoration and maintenance of Walker Lake, an at-risk natural desert lake in Nevada at the terminus of the Walker River stream system with headwaters in the Sierra Nevada of California.
- Desert Terminal Lakes Restoration Program - This follow-up agreement to the WBRP provides additional funding from the Bureau of Reclamation to support the core purposes of the WBRP as well as similar priorities in the Truckee, Carson, and Summit Lake basins.
- Rio Grande Environmental Water Transactions Program - Established by the U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission in 2009, this program supports the collaborative work of local partners to restore riparian habitat for the federally endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher along a 105-mile reach of the river from Caballo Dam in southern New Mexico to El Paso, Texas.
- Colorado River Delta Restoration Program - Established in conjunction with a bi-national agreement between the United States and Mexico in 2012, this program administers both public and private-sector funds to support riparian habitat restoration efforts as well as voluntary water transactions to address the historic loss of freshwater flows in the once-magnificent Colorado River Delta.
In addition to water transaction initiatives in the Klamath Basin in southern Oregon and northern California, NFWF is currently working to develop similar freshwater restoration initiatives in the Sierra Nevada/Central Valley/Bay-Delta watershed of California, the upper and lower Colorado River Basins and other bi-national watersheds of the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.