Background

What is the purpose of the Natural Resource Investment Center?

The Natural Resources Investment Center will use market-based tools and innovative public-private collaborations to conserve natural resources, cultivate efficient water allocation, and promote increased investments in critical infrastructure in conjunction with Department of the Interior’s conservation and stewardship mission. Its purpose is to increase investment in water conservation and build up water supply resilience, foster private investment to advance efficient permitting and facilitate meaningful conservation, and increase investment in critical water infrastructure.

What is the Center’s connection with the White House?

The Center is inspired by President Obama’s Build America Investment Initiative, which calls on federal agencies to find new ways to increase investment in ports, roads, water and sewer systems, bridges, broadband networks, and other 21st-century infrastructure projects, by facilitating partnerships among federal, state, local and tribal governments, and private sector investors.

What does the Build America Investment Initiative do?

The Build America Investment Initiative is a government-wide initiative called for by the President to increase infrastructure investment and economic growth. As part of the Initiative, the Administration is launching the Center – housed at the Department of the Interior – to bring market-based approaches to Interior’s conservation mission and to serve as a one-stop shop for cities and states seeking to use innovative financing and partnerships with the private sector to support water infrastructure, banking and mitigation.

Are there other Centers like this within the federal government?

Yes, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation have developed similar centers as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which houses a Rural Opportunity Investment Initiative

What issues will the Natural Resource Investment Center work on?

The Center will work on innovative ideas and financing options for projects that conserve and share scarce Western water resources - essentially making every drop count - and will also focus on protecting species habitat through mitigation banking and conservation incentives.

The Center will focus on three objectives:

  1. Increase investment in water conservation and build up water supply resilience by facilitating water exchanges or transfers in the western U.S.
  2. Foster private investment and support well-structured markets that advance efficient permitting and effective landscape-level conservation for species, habitats and other natural resources. 
  3. Increase investment in critical water infrastructure, both major rehabilitation and replacement of existing infrastructure and new infrastructure needs, by developing new financing approaches and helping to execute projects.

Why is Interior establishing the Center? 

Interior continues to confront fundamental challenges to its mission, including water supply shortages, aging water infrastructure and habitat fragmentation. To meet these growing needs in the current constrained budget environment, Interior must increase its partnerships with non-federal players, including states, resource users, NGOs and the private sector, many of whom derive value from and can invest in Interior land and water resource assets.

Water/Mitigation/Conservation & Habitat

Are there examples of how the Center’s work can help alleviate the impacts of the drought or enhance habitat conservation in the western US?

Water Markets: The Central Valley Project in California features one of the nation’s most robust water transfer programs. It improves operational flexibility through expanded use of voluntary water transfers. Individuals or water districts receiving CVP water can transfer all or a portion of their water to other California water users or a water agency, state or federal agency, tribes, or private non-profit organization. Through this program, between 300,000 and 400,000 acre-feet of water is transferred in a typical year, allowing high-value agriculture and cities to maintain deliveries through scarcity.

Mitigation Banking: In partnership with Barrick Gold of North America (and the Nature Conservancy), the Department of the Interior announced an agreement to provide the mining company with credit for greater sage-grouse habitat improvements in Nevada. The agreement allowed Barrick to accumulate credits for successful mitigation projects that protect and enhance greater sage-grouse habitat on its private ranchlands. In return, the company gets assurance from Interior that the credits can be used to offset impact to habitat from the company’s planned future mine expansion on public lands.

Water Infrastructure: Municipal water users in the lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada invested $142 million of non-federal funding to construct a reservoir to conserve water and maximize the use of available water supplies. The Brock Reservoir in California was completed in roughly two years, and provides an example of innovative, fast, multi-party cooperation.

What role will the Center play in mitigation?

The Center will work to identify and articulate the role of private sector investments in the mitigation work ongoing at the Department. The Center will help DOI bureaus adopt an approach to mitigation, particularly compensatory mitigation that encourages and facilitates private investment in mitigation.

Why are private investors interested in species and habitat conservation?

Private sector investment in natural resources and ecosystems are designed to earn a profit while driving a measurable positive impact on the environment. Investors are interested in natural resources because of the predictability and certainty associated with the investment return and added benefit to the environment.

Finance

What resources are available for the Center/What resources are already in place?

DOI manages approximately 20 percent of the United States, is the largest wholesale water provider in the country, and has regulatory authority. The individual bureaus have budgets and staffs spread out around the country. The Center will work with the bureaus, and their budgets and assets, to structure investments.

How is the Center funded and what part of these funds is coming strictly from the Interior Department? 

Beyond the small team that will support the Center’s partnerships with the private sector, the Center will work with existing Interior assets and budgets to explore innovative partnerships with non-federal partners. The Center will not have access to a new ‘pot of funds’ to make investments. Ultimately, funding arrangements for any project will vary on a case-by-case basis.

How will these investments affect other government funds in place?

The Center will not change any other government funds in place. The Center will work to help Interior’s bureaus identify additional private sector investment potential, working better to leverage all available financial resources by matching potential investors with projects in need of innovative financing mechanisms.

A specific project in my community would be a good fit for the Center. Who should my constituents contact to learn how they can utilize the Center’s resources?

If you have ideas for specific projects, the best way to move them forward is to initiate discussions with Center staff.  Please send us a question in the Contact Us section.