A Conversation with Kyle Garmany of The Nature Conservancy on Building Water Markets

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Kyle Garmany, Water & Agriculture Program Director at The Nature Conservancy in Texas, has spent his career working on keeping water instream for the benefit of the environment. He is also a close collaborator and friend of Texas Water Trade and we talked with him about why this work is relevant now, especially in Texas.

Why are voluntary water transactions so important for Texas conservation?

Kyle Garmany: Water is the lifeblood of our state—it flows from our major aquifers to the taps of the millions of Texas residents, runs through our spring-fed creeks and swimming holes and sustains nearly 250,000 farms and ranches. But it’s also a finite resource—and in a state like Texas that’s dealing with a shifting climate and extreme rainfall events on the heels of severe drought, it’s one that’s seriously overallocated.

In the next 50 years, the demand for water in Texas will skyrocket as our population reaches more than 50 million. All the water we have now is all we’ve got for the future, but we’ll need it to service a set of rapidly growing needs: sustaining our cities, supporting manufacturing, powering energy sources and, critically, benefitting the environment and the species that rely on it.

These shifts in climate, paired with an increased demand for water, could reduce our freshwater supply and threaten to further alter the natural flow of our rivers. Because of this, the management of water resources is arguably the greatest challenge facing Texas in the 21st century.

Water scarcity creates conflict between water users and often leaves little to no water instream to protect fish and wildlife habitat. It’s already impacted the majority of our state’s river basins, and depletions of these freshwater flows is the leading cause for freshwater species decline—which is a big deal considering that almost half of all native fish species in Texas are already listed for conservation concern. But these needs don’t have to be pitted against one another—we can protect water for people and nature alike.

Environmental water transactions are an innovative and adaptable tool that we can leverage to address water scarcity while meeting both human and environmental demands. By allowing water users—farmers, landowners, municipalities and others—to voluntarily trade their water rights to willing environmental buyers, we’re able to create incentives for water conservation and help redistribute it in a way that protects environmental flows and freshwater ecosystems.

You’ve been working with Sharlene Leurig, TWT CEO for a while now in different ways. What motivates you and TNC to partner so closely with TWT and what have you learned?

Kyle Garmany: TNC has been working on flow restoration and protection efforts for decades—through the targeted investment and protection of freshwater resources at places like the Devils River and Independence Creek, as well through the development of environmental flows science and policy. In 2016, TNC Texas created a Water Markets program to establish water markets and advance environmental water transactions as a tool to address water scarcity across the state.

And while that program has developed transactions across Texas that have successfully restored and protected instream flows, the scale of the water scarcity challenges we’re facing means that the solutions have got to scale in tandem. That means we need more actors in the environmental water transactions space to provide meaningful flow restoration statewide. Through Sharlene’s leadership, TWT has really catalyzed this work by creating the Market Makers Program and by providing a platform for organizations to learn about and build environmental water transactions into their toolbox of conservation strategies. It’s clear that we’re already moving in the right direction. TNC has enjoyed partnering with TWT to help advance this work and to achieve our shared goal of expanding the use and scope of environmental water transactions as a flow restoration tool.

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