Five Things That Can Make or Break Water Solutions in the West

January 2014

(Washington, DC) — A new guidebook from the Environmental Law Institute puts a twist on water policy development. Focusing on what influences success, rather than the policies and programs themselves, Five Things to Consider When Developing and Adapting Water Policies and Programs in the West lays out key factors that ultimately determine the success or failure of water initiatives in the Western United States.

Meeting the many water needs of the West has become more challenging than ever. Some policies and programs designed to address those challenges are outstanding in theory but do not live up to their potential – others work in one location but are unsuccessful when attempted elsewhere. According to guidebook co-author Adam Schempp, Director of ELI’s Western Water Program, “The fate of any policy or program rests as much or more on the circumstances in which it is applied as on the quality of the strategy being implemented.”

The guidebook identifies five salient factors: social and political dynamics, physical landscape, economics, law, and administrative capacity. A range of variables within those factors include potential economic effects and whether or not champions of the policy or program exist. For example, Montana’s instream flow leasing program, a model for the rest of the West, would not be what it is without Trout Unlimited’s legislative advocacy and dedication to implementation. Similarly, much of the success of the water leasing program between the Palo Verde Irrigation District and the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California stems from expenditures specifically aimed at addressing negative economic externalities, such as the resulting loss of agricultural jobs and the financial impact on farm-related services.

“We developed this guide to help decision-makers at the state and local levels identify and analyze the various factors that may influence the success of a policy or program, and tailor those efforts accordingly,” said Schempp. The guidebook can be downloaded for free at

R&P Programs and Projects