Models for our Program

We may be new in Canada, but the Trust is modeled on many successful programs operating in the United States.  There are some differences including who ultimately holds the instream water licence but that is due to differences in the legal systems in each area.

Results from the activities of the U.S. trusts show that the most successful organizations are non-governmental working with government in the management of water.

We aim to establish the Trust as a partner in Alberta’s water conservation activities.  We are an option for the community for protecting and restoring instream flow.

You are the community and the people we want to work with for the benefit of all Albertans, present and future.


Established Trusts in the USA (two examples)

Provincial laws in Canada and state laws in the US, shape the opportunities/constraints for water trusts.  Regional factors play a large part in how the system emerges, especially: historical and political tensions, existing alliances and partnerships and economic viability of specific tools and incentives.


The Colorado Water Trust and the Instream Flow Program

The Colorado Water Trust (CWT) was established in 2001 to support and promote voluntary efforts to protect and restore the state’s streamflows.  The CWT is the facilitator in the state for returning water to instream flow.  As an organization, the CWT cannot hold an instream flow licence, but they are able to acquire and transfer water rights to the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), the only entity to hold such licences.

The CWCB was created in 1973 along with the Instream Flow Program when Senate Bill 97 was passed.  Prior to this bill all appropriations required a diversion, SB 97 removed the diversion requirement for two exceptions; instream flow and natural lake level rights.  However, the only entity authorized to hold these licences was the CWCB.

Despite the 1973 change in legislation, Colorado rivers and streams were still suffering from overuse and dewatering.  The CWT was formed to assist the CWCB in conserving water.

The CWT uses voluntary, market-based mechanisms to keep/return water instream.  The CWCB identifies areas of need and the CWT helps to facilitate the interest and commitment from eligible water rights holders.

Through their work with the CWCB the CWT helps to identify reaches for new appropriations (areas that are not closed) and is the public face for water acquisitions.

In 2012, the CWT carried out a pilot program enabled by new legislation allowing for short-term leases.  There are three types of leases available to landowners;

  1. 3 in 10.  Under this agreement the water right (or a portion ) is leased to the CWCB for the entire irrigation season for at least three out of ten years.
  2. Single year leases
  3. Split season lease.  Under this agreement, the water is left instream starting mid-irrigation to the end of the season.  Minimum term is three in ten years.

Lessors were paid market value for their contribution, based on potential income from irrigated crops.

There were benefits to the program for the public, including the ability to avoid Water Court.  Lease applications (made voluntarily by rights holders) were assessed and approved by the CWCB Director and State and Division Engineer.  Additionally, when leased, water was protected from abandonment and not included under the Historical Consumptive Use assessments.

“Colorado has established instream flow rights on over 8,500 miles of stream and 486 natural lakes in the state, and continues to provide instream flow protection to approximately 40 new stream segments each year.”


The Fresh Water Trust of Oregon

The Oregon Water Trust was the first trust in the United States, established in 1993.  In 2009, the Trust merged with Oregon Trout to form the Fresh Water Trust (FWT), a leading Water Trust operating out of Portland, Oregon.  The FWT collaborates with landowners to restore water to and keep water in Oregon’s rivers and streams.

The FWT bases its activities on the Instream Water Act, a tenet of Oregon Law.  Instream water was recognized as necessary to support the aquatic environment in 1987 and therefore considered “beneficial use”.  Without this basis, the FWT could not operate.  Unfortunately, by 1987 new appropriations were no longer available as most river systems were over-allocated.  In areas where appropriation was still possible, the priority date of the licence virtually eliminated the potential benefit to the aquatic habitat.  The ability to transfer water rights became the focus of water conservation.

Under Oregon Law, water rights holders are able to transfer their licence through sale, lease or donation to another Government approved entity.  Under the Instream Water Act however, private entities such at the FWT are prohibited from holding an instream water licence, rather it is transferred to Water Resources Department (WRD), the only authority able to hold conservation water.  The WRD is a state agency that despite having the ability to hold instream water licences, lacks the funding to pursue any available appropriations.  This is where the FWT plays a major role, as it can – through multiple avenues – acquire the necessary funding to work with water rights holders in the state (offsetting obstacles – inadequate funding, ineffective enforcement, procurement of rights with junior dates, slow and expensive bureaucratic process). The FWT facilitates acquisitions for the WRD, identifying and working with landowners to transfer water to instream rights held by the WRD.

The FWT works in the field with landowners and industry to purchase, lease or receive through donation, water allocations.  Additionally, the FWT has set up a working ecosystem goods and services exchange program that supports the maintenance of quality water.  Through their activities, the FWT works in the field to restore and rebalance water systems.  Through the Conserved Water Program (a state based program), the FWT funds wholly or partially a project to make water use more efficient.  In return, the FWT receives a portion of at least 25% of this conserved water and transfers it to the state.


The FWT and the WCTC

There are similarities between the development of the FWT and our WCTC.  The FWT received its first donation of water before the rules were established for the transfer of instream rights and the processes required to ensure that the process was swift and equitable.  Consequently, the FWT played a major role in the development of the rules for their program and on the fly were able to develop, influence and test the system, providing valuable feedback.

The WCTC is following in the footsteps of the FWT.  We are working with the Government of Alberta and Licensees to develop, influence and test a system of economic instruments to finance water contributions, where needed, to instream flow.