TED Talk: Blue is the New Green As Water Footprints Enter The Economy

dry creek photo

Photo by Prince Roy via Flickr Creative Commons

Water rights holders get paid to leave water in streams, businesses pay to clean up water... it sounds too good to be true, yet it's a solution that is already in practice and working today. Rob Harmon of the nonprofit Bonneville Environmental Foundation, explains the plan they put together for a market-based willing seller, willing buyer solution that doesn't require litigation. It solves a major issue in water rights conflict and riparian habitat degradation, and helps restore ecosystems. How does it work? Check out the short talk and see. As Sustainable Business Oregon reports, the nonprofit sold the country's first retail renewable energy certificate in 2000, and now it has moved on to selling water restoration certificates, or WRCs, late summer 2009. Similar to carbon offset credits, one $1 certificate represents 1,000 gallons of water restored to a river or stream, which companies can purchase to offset their water consumption.

"Companies were already looking at their carbon footprints and their energy footprints and they were just starting to look at their water footprint," said Rob Harmon, chief innovation officer for Bonneville Environmental Foundation. "I thought, 'Can we capitalize on that and put some water back into these hammered ecosystems?'"

By establishing a voluntary market through water restoration certificates, the foundation was able to establish a pot of money to pay water rights holders to keep their water in the stream rather than using it for irrigation. Through the program, the foundation has active water restoration projects in Oregon and Montana. The projects are vetted by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Indeed, they figured out a way. Here's how the system works:

Farmers get a choice about how their water is used, knocking out the use-it-or-lose-it rights that suck river systems dry; companies get the water they need for production; and most importantly river habitats keep the water they need to stay healthy. It's these types of solutions we need more of to solve some important water conflicts and plug leaks in damaged water use strategies.

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