Conservation easements eyed for Western groundwater

By Jennifer Yachnin | 04/11/2024 01:06 PM EDT

An environmental think tank is pushing states to consider tapping easements to conserve aquifers.

A sign warning of low water levels is posted near a boat launch ramp to the Great Salt Lake.

A sign is posted near a boat launch ramp to the Great Salt Lake at the Great Salt Lake State Park on Aug. 2, 2021, near Magna, Utah. Justin Sullivan/AFP via Getty Images

Environmentalists often turn to conservation easements to conserve wildlife habitat, recreational uses and open space. Why not do the same for groundwater?

That’s the question researchers at the Montana-based Property and Environment Research Center are urging state lawmakers across the West to consider in a bid to conserve groundwater supplies threatened by persistent drought and overuse of existing supplies.

The idea is modeled on similar programs for land conservation, in which landowners and nonprofit land trusts strike agreements to set aside acreage to preserve features like wildlife habitat, open space or recreational use.


“These are a great way to address this issue where we’ve allocated more water rights than water in aquifers, but we may not want to be prescriptive about how we achieve those reductions,” said Katherine Wright, a senior researcher at PERC who led a recent report on the proposal.