While my previous post discussed the myriad problems associated with allocating water for the environment, here I'd like to talk about something novel being tried in Tucson to connect individual water conservation decisions with environmental restoration. The program is called Conserve to Enhance (C2E) and operates by having municipal water customers here in Tucson implement something on their property (i.e. rainwater harvesting or graywater reuse) that will decrease the amount of water they use each month, leading to a regular savings on their water bill. That savings does not come off of their bill. Instead they continue paying the same amount and the money they would have saved is put in a funding source for environmental restoration projects that typically require a water source to establish and maintain riparian ecosystems.
A pilot program for C2E was just started, so the program has been in the news recently (see here, here, and here). The program evolved from an idea developed at the University of Arizona's Water Resources Research Center (WRRC) that was originally known as Environmental Water Banking. It evolved from what was perceived as a need to link water conservation activities with environmental benefits in the community. A common complaint in the past has been that water conservation only frees up more water for new development so why bother.
I'm not involved in the program, but Watershed Management Group (for whom I'm a board member) is the entity running the program, with assistance from WRRC and the Sonoran Institute and grant funding from EPA that is providing subsidies for some of the pilot program participants to install the infrastructure necessary to realize their water savings.
While this is a rather small step in the overall goal of bringing the environment to the table when water is being dished up it is a very big step in public perception of water conservation and how it's connected to protecting the environment. And perhaps more than that, it's an example of people assigning an economic value to environmental amenities and backing that up with real money to provide water for the environment. Hopefully in a year I'll be talking about how successful the pilot project has been and that plans for a full-scale roll-out are imminent.