January 1, 2024 — In Nevada, a federally-backed conservation effort called the “Voluntary Water Rights Retirement Program” asks landowners to sell their groundwater rights for cash. This opportunity is open to those in specified regions of the state, particularly where groundwater basins are excessively drawn. The program, funded with $15 million from the American Rescue Plan Act, aims to decrease water demand and prevent further depletion of these basins. Eligible landowners have until January 22 to apply for the “cash-for-water-rights” offer.
Priority and Pricing.
The initiative focuses on overpumped areas, where water extraction exceeds replenishment, offering $900 per acre-foot. In overappropriated basins where water rights exceed actual water, the rights are valued at $350 per acre-foot. Landowners keep their land but give up future groundwater extraction rights, ensuring these resources are not further exploited.
Regional Focus and Response.
Targeting nine counties, the program has seen a handful of applications and numerous inquiries. The urgency stems from the looming January deadline, after which the offer expires. Notably, Diamond Valley, recognized for its critical water state, is a primary focus, with a slightly different purchase rate and mandatory plans for water rights holders to address the declining groundwater levels.
Challenges and Broader Efforts.
The decision for landowners, especially farmers, is complex, balancing immediate financial incentives against long-term land use implications. This dilemma is echoed in Southern Nevada, where a similar but smaller-scale project involves purchasing water rights to protect unique ecosystems in the Moapa Valley. These initiatives are part of a broader trend across states like Oregon, Colorado, and Kansas, aiming to rectify water overuse and support ecological sustainability.
Morning in Moapa Valley, looking east at Mormon Mesa across alfalfa fields. Photo by Brett V. Burnes, via Wikimedia Commons.