Interior Department Announces Initiative to Spur Innovation & Investments that Support Water, Conservation Solutions

Office of the Secretary

At White House Roundtable on Water Innovation, Interior launches Natural Resource Investment Center to support water, species, and habitat conservation

12/15/2015
Last edited 12/15/2015

Date: December 15, 2015
Contact: Jessica Kershaw, Interior_Press@ios.doi.gov

WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell today announced that the Department will establish a Natural Resource Investment Center to spur partnerships with the private sector to develop creative financing opportunities that support economic development goals while advancing the Department’s resource stewardship mission. 

At a White House Roundtable on Water Innovation, Jewell outlined that the Center will use market-based tools and innovative public-private collaborations to increase investment in water conservation and critical water infrastructure, as well as promote investments that conserve important habitat in a manner that advances efficient permitting and meaningful landscape-level conservation. 

“Given increased development pressures, climate impacts and constrained budgets, Interior is pursuing innovative approaches with private sector organizations to help accomplish our balanced land management and conservation mission,” Secretary Jewell said. “As a former CEO, I am confident the private sector can play a meaningful role in working with us to advance the goals of smart development alongside thoughtful conservation. The Natural Resource Investment Center will facilitate this effort by building on current activity to incent private investments in the infrastructure and conservation of water, species, habitat, and other natural resources.”

The Center will work closely with the private sector and others to identify innovative ideas and financing options for projects that conserve scarce Western water resources and protect species habitat. 

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. 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 project ideas; and
     
  3. Foster private investment and support well-structured markets that advance efficient permitting and effective landscape-level conservation for species, habitat and other natural resources.

The Center is part of 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; and Pay for Success, an initiative that seeks to employ innovative new strategies to help ensure that the essential services of government produce their intended outcomes. The infrastructure improvements are facilitated by building partnerships among federal, state, local and tribal governments and private-sector investors. The U.S. Departments of Transportation and Agriculture and the Environmental Protection Agency also have centers initiated in response to these Initiatives.

Interior’s Natural Resource Investment Center will harness the expertise of the Department’s bureaus, including the Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs and U.S Geological Survey, and will tap external private sector experience to deliver on its objectives. 

The Center will model its water efficiency and transfer efforts in part on the successful initiatives of the Central Valley Project (CVP) in California. The CVP improves operational flexibility and water supply reliability 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 organizations. 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.

To promote increased investment in critical water infrastructure, the Center will also work to develop new financing approaches and engage with non-federal partners to make investments that build water supply resilience. These could include storage, pipelines, canals, and investments in efficiency that help to stretch and better manage scarce water supplies and sustain river ecosystems. One recent example of this approach is the Warren H. Brock Reservoir in California. To respond more effectively to the changing conditions on the river, Reclamation and stakeholders in Nevada, Arizona, and California collaboratively constructed this storage facility to conserve water and maximize the use of available water supplies.  The Bureau of Reclamation conducted environmental compliance, oversaw construction, and integrated the project into its operations in the Lower Colorado River system, and the project was completed in roughly two years.

The Center will also identify opportunities for private sector investments in important habitat conservation needs on public and private lands. One creative example is demonstrated in a partnership between Interior, Barrick Gold of North America and The Nature Conservancy to enhance habitat in Nevada for the greater sage grouse. The agreement allowed Barrick to accumulate credits for successful habitat improvement projects on its private ranchlands. In return, the company receives assurance from Interior that the credits can be used to offset impact to habitat from planned future mine expansion on public lands. 

The Department of the Interior manages approximately 20 percent of the land in the United States, and is the largest wholesale water provider in the country. The Department is establishing the Center under its existing authorities.