Market-based Multi-benefit Approaches to Streamflow Restoration in the Yakima Basin

Year: 2023
Presenter/s: Justin Bezold
Symposium Session: 2023 - 05 Restoration as Risk Reduction: Climate Resilience
Topics covered: drought, flow augmentation, and risk and resilience


In Washington’s Yakima Basin, water has been a source of conflict due to competing demands. The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan offers a collaborative approach to resolve conflicts and advance habitat protection and restoration, including streamflows, for future generations. Local flow restoration practitioners have used traditional streamflow projects (e.g., water right leases and purchases, irrigation efficiencies) for over 20 years to successfully improve streamflows. However, as the competition and demand for flows is projected to change due to climate change, a market-based multi-benefit approach also carries potential to improve streamflows and provide water for out-of-stream uses via a smart market. A recently completed Yakima Basin water market report, funded by the US Bureau of Reclamation and Washington Department of Ecology, presents a smart water market strategy that can improve short-term (<5 years) water transfers in years of scarcity. The proposed strategy includes a framework for how environmental buyers can participate in and leverage a market for consumptive uses of water. These transfers have the potential to improve tributary flows for environmental purposes, at a fraction of the cost, while also helping ensure water is available for out-of-stream uses, such as agriculture. The strategy, in addition to ongoing traditional and non-traditional streamflow restoration efforts, provides another tool for flow restoration practitioners to consider to improve streamflows and restore ecosystems faced with climate change and increasing demands for limited water supplies.