November 29, 2014--New program connects ranchers saving water with interested buyers (Casper Star and Tribune)

The idea is both simple and innovative: connect a rancher willing to conserve water with someone willing to pay for the conservation. It’s not a government grant. It’s not another federal program. Instead, the Upper Green River Conservation Exchange will create a marketplace for managing water and helping watersheds. It could be the first of its kind in Wyoming. “Overall we see it as a win-win situation,” said Melanie Purcell, wildlife and habitat program manager for the Sublette County Conservation District. “I think if we can make these programs work, they really have a lot of benefit, not only to the landowners but society as a whole.” The concept was born in Wyoming more than a decade ago through Anne MacKinnon, a consultant and adjunct professor for the University of Wyoming’s School of Environment and Natural Resources. Ranchers and landowners in the upper Green River Basin had talked for years about how to be paid for their water-related activities that weren’t just selling hay at market. Most ranchers in the area irrigate by flooding their land. That allows water to seep into the earth, just as a sponge holds water. They they slowly released it downstream later in the season. If that water could be quantified, groups interested in preserving fisheries or wetlands would be willing to pay to keep that water flowing, MacKinnon said. The exchange is working through its pilot project stage, run by the Sublette County Conservation District, the University of Wyoming, The Nature Conservancy and the Environmental Defense Fund. The project leaders finished their first two-year grant studying possibilities and started their second grant this fall. The next step is to hire someone to oversee the pilot projects, making sure the outcomes are formally quantified and documented, MacKinnon said.

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