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Tools to advance water trading in a new era of sustainable groundwater management

In recent years, California water management has been challenged by competing priorities among stakeholder groups as well as devastating droughts, floods, and infrastructure failures. In response, the state has taken meaningful steps to improve its water system.

Policy drivers like the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act provide an unprecedented window of opportunity to bring balance to this system. Progress will require a combination of reduced water demand, enhanced groundwater supplies, reallocation of water, and new governance models. It will also require a more flexible water system that can better adapt to drought and flood.

Market incentives can play a vital role in addressing these factors and prompting needed changes to the status quo. Market incentives span a range of approaches, including the buying and selling of water rights, payments to landowners to manage their water for ecosystem benefits, and pooled funding from water users to support system-level conservation.

In 2018, via collaboration with partners at the Water Funder Initiative, the Foundation made a $2 million investment in the Water Foundation to advance market incentives for water management in California and across the American West. In turn, the Water Foundation regranted funds to organizations including Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), which worked with water managers and landowners in the Rosedale-Rio Bravo Water Storage District to design the first open-source water accounting and trading platform in California’s Central Valley.

The platform, co-created with Sitka Technology Group, WestWater Research, and Olsson, enables water managers and farmers to develop more accurate water budgets, facilitate water trading, and minimize undesirable results. This tool makes use of groundwater modeling to support decision makers. It leverages satellite-based data from the innovative OpenET web application, also developed through a Foundation-supported partnership involving EDF.

EDF has created an interactive guide describing the new water accounting and trading platform and how it can support California’s transition to a new era of groundwater management.

Visit the story map and learn more.

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