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The Complexities and Opportunities of Water Markets

Written by Karie Boone, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources (June 28, August 26, and October 6, 2022) and Rajendra Khanal, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Utah (December 19, 2022).

A key impact of climate change on water availability in the Columbia River Basin is a shift in the timing of water supply, as warmer temperatures lead to more rain and less snow, and earlier snowmelt, especially in the Cascade Mountains. Flexibility in water use is important for adjusting to these changes, and water markets can provide a tool that provides flexibility. Washington State University and partners are investigating different aspects of water markets, and this has been the focus of a series of blog articles on The first article explores some of the factors that make water markets distinct from markets for other goods and identifies some of the challenges that may limit the adoption of water markets in our region. The other three articles delve further into these challenges… and the opportunities, including price disclosures, the complexities of trading private rights for a public good, and the potential of partial leasing.

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Water Markets Photos

Water markets is one potential tool for moving water between uses such as instream water for sockeye in the Yakima Basin (top left; photo: WA Dept. of Ecology) or irrigating crop fields (top right; photo: Aspect Consulting). Such movement can be particularly important when flows are low (Walla Walla River runs low late in the irrigation season (bottom; photo: WA Dept. of Ecology).


Karie Boone
Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

Rajendra Khanal
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Utah


Washington State University