ICS Helps Launch New Babbitt Center

ICS Helps Launch New Babbitt Center

The intimate connection between land and water is often discussed in academic circles but not well integrated into land use and water management policy and practice at the local level. The Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (LILP) and the Sonoran Institute (SI) asked ICS to help change that. In 2016, ICS was commissioned to guide the launch of a new water center and a cooperative, joint-venture program in the Colorado River Basin. That effort resulted in the launch of Lincoln Institute’s Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy, announced on May 2, 2017, and a LILP/SI joint venture—Resilient Communities and Watersheds—focused on integrating land use and water policy at the local level in the Colorado River Basin.

“It’s been said that water is the new oil, and if we want to ensure that future generations have adequate supplies, we have to understand the intimate connection between land and water,” said George W. “Mac” McCarthy, President and CEO of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (LILP). ICS Principal Scott Campbell added: “Around the globe, there is a fundamental lack of integration between land-use planning and water management; yet land is the medium through which our water resources are managed—knowingly or unknowingly, wisely or unwisely, sustainably or without regard for the future. Most all of our water problems are land-use based.”

The Center, which will be based in Phoenix, is named for Bruce Babbitt, former Arizona governor, Secretary of the Interior under President Bill Clinton, and longtime board member of LILP. Jim Holway, former director of the LILP/SI joint Western Lands and Communities program and former assistant director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, will serve as the Center’s first director.

“I am honored to be associated with this initiative and vision,” said Bruce Babbitt. “The Lincoln Institute has emphasized the importance of land and land policy in addressing the world’s toughest problems, and the stewardship of water resources is at the top of the list. We all need to be aware of the connection between water and land.” “It’s a two-way street,” added McCarthy. “How we plan and use land has an impact on water, and water availability has an increasing impact on how we can use land. We seek to bridge these two worlds to better meet the needs of people, agriculture, and nature.”

The Lincoln Institute is a private operating foundation whose mission is to be a leading center for the study of land policy and land-related tax policy throughout the world. The mission of the Sonoran Institute, which serves the Intermountain West, is to connect people and communities with the natural resources that nourish and sustain them. LILP and SI have partnered for 11 years assisting western communities in applying pioneering approaches to the challenges associated with growth, economic development, climate change, and natural resource management.

Super Ditch: ICS Examines a Buy-and-Dry Alternative

Super Ditch: ICS Examines a Buy-and-Dry Alternative

ICS Principal Scott Campbell penned, “Super Ditch,” the fall cover story in Lincoln Institute of Land Policy’s quarterly publication, Land Lines. In it, he explores the launch of the Super Ditch, a corporation designed to become a lease agent for farmers looking to protect agricultural water supplies from municipal acquisitions by leveraging water’s value as an annual cash crop—temporarily leasing it to cities in a rotational fallowing program rather than selling it outright.

In river basins across the American West, where every drop of water is owned and accounted for and no water is available for new uses, cities are buying agricultural water rights in order to supply water to growing populations. These are voluntary economic transactions, frequently negotiated with retiring farmers hundreds of miles from city centers. But when farm communities lose a critical mass of water to municipal sales, economic collapse can ensue; and remaining farms and businesses are sometimes no longer viable. The Super Ditch, a corporation serving eight mutual irrigation ditches across Colorado’s Lower Arkansas River Valley, in an effort to eliminate this zero-sum game, is conducting an experiment that allows farmers to pool supplies from rotationally fallowed fields, rest those fields every one-in-ten years (a good soil management practice), and lease the pooled supplies to cities. This brings cash to the farmer and water to the city, while creating a “buy-and-dry” alternative. (Buy-and-dry refers to municipal water appropriations practices where cities buy interests in farm properties, then fallow those farms to divert the water for municipal use.)

The Colorado project, which is in pilot phase, is fraught with hurdles and complexities. Nevertheless, Campbell argues, the Super Ditch is creating important new paradigms: First, by opening up new market channels, it helps farmers recognize the value of this important natural resource in ways other than outright sales or crop production. (Outright sales don’t enable a farmer to realize gains from water’s increasing value. Crop production profits are subject to the ebbs and flows of markets and commodity prices, which don’t often correlate with water’s value). That not only saves farms, it maintains a field of diversified water ownership. Diversified ownership creates market competition that will more effectively price water in the long run. Even though the price of water out West is increasing, municipal acquisitions tend to keep prices artificially low considering the scarcity of this precious resource.

Click here to read the article.

Click here to view the complete Fall 2015 Land Lines publication.