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[Portal ID #1962]

Department of Ecology
Committees, Boards, and Workgroups

Water Right Transfers Project

Washington State follows the prior appropriation, Western Water Law principles. Here as in other states, water rights are usufructory rights, which means that the water itself is a public resource held for all to use. However, the use of the right, once granted by the state, is a property right. This property right can be transferred between users – bought and sold – so long as there is no impairment to existing water rights. Generally, because of impairment concerns, this means that rights can be transferred downstream, but generally not upstream.

Significant concerns have been expressed about the impacts of water rights being sold by upstream, typically smaller farms, to buyers downstream that are often corporations and larger farms. When that happens, water scarcity and limited availability of water rights reduces the available water supply to the affected community. While each water right transaction is unique, large and highly publicized attempts by investment bankers to acquire large agricultural water rights and transfer them downstream to other farms and communities raises the question about what the economic, social, and environmental impacts are from these types of transfers. 

Legislative proposals introduced in the 2020 Washington State Legislative Session proposed to limit how water rights could be acquired and transferred. Some legislators suggested that there should be limits or prohibitions on out-of-state entities (such as investment banks) from being able to purchase water rights. It is likely that some of these concepts will be introduced in the upcoming legislative session, with the possibility that such restrictions could be adopted into law.

Water Rights Tracking System

January 19th Meeting Slides

Background Reading

Secondary Economic Effects Literature

Reference Materials




 File NameFile SizeDescriptionCategoryDate Added
Jaeger_Conflicts over Water in the.pdf 1.8 MB
None 02/11/21 03:22 PM
Jaeger_Increasing Streamflow to Sustain Salmon.pdf 103.8 KB
None 02/11/21 03:21 PM
Waye_Regulating the Australian Water Market.pdf 283.4 KB
None 02/11/21 03:19 PM
Varzi_Alternative Water Transfer Methods Review.pdf 103.4 KB
None 02/11/21 03:19 PM
Thampapillai_Liberal Theoretical Foundation for Government.pdf 306.7 KB
None 02/11/21 03:19 PM
Nicholas_All We Really Need to.pdf 2.4 MB
None 02/11/21 03:19 PM
Kenney_Improving the Viability of Alternative Water.pdf 686.5 KB
None 02/11/21 03:18 PM
Janmaat_Managing Drought Risk in Okanagan.pdf 593.1 KB
None 02/11/21 03:18 PM
Grafton_water markets and scarcity Australias.pdf 254.6 KB
None 02/11/21 03:18 PM
Grafton_On the Marketisation of Water.pdf 346.9 KB
None 02/11/21 03:18 PM
Gollehon_Water Markets_ Implications for Rural.pdf 263 KB
None 02/11/21 03:18 PM
Garrick_Water markets and freshwater ecosystem.pdf 456.9 KB
None 02/11/21 03:17 PM
Final_Report_reformatted.pdf 276 KB
None 02/11/21 03:17 PM
Water Market Basics.pptx 45.1 KB
None 01/19/21 04:10 PM
WaterRightsPrimer_2021.pptx 1.9 MB
None 01/19/21 04:10 PM
Water Markets and Third Party Effects.pdf 2.7 MB
None 01/19/21 10:16 AM
Landowner's Guide to WA Water Rights.pdf 9.8 MB
None 01/19/21 09:25 AM
Environmental Water Transactions_A Practitioner's Handbook.pdf 18.2 MB
None 01/19/21 09:22 AM
Washington State Water Law - A Primer.pdf 143.5 KB
None 01/19/21 09:16 AM

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