Water Policy Program

As populations grow and the climate changes, competition for water resources is increasing.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions’ Water Policy Program is an interdisciplinary effort focused on utilizing data to inform effective policy changes in how water is understood and managed. These efforts span understanding to increase water-management flexibility for reservoirs under a changing climate and to develop market-based approaches for water allocation. 

Through a portfolio of strategic collaborations with other organizations, the Nicholas Institute continues to provide leadership on improving the sustainability of water resource management in the United States. In the western United States, we are improving water resource management in Nevada by designing and pilot testing a blueprint for “unbundling” water rights—that is, reforming the prior appropriation system so that shares in water rights can be easily traded, including with environmental stakeholders, and so that water resources can be managed sustainably for the benefit of all rights holders and the environment. The intent of the work is not to improve water management in Nevada alone, but to set the stage for reform throughout the West and ultimately throughout the United States. 

The program also partners annually to host the Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum, jointly convened by the Aspen Institute's Energy and Environment Program and Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. The forum serves as a platform for addressing domestic water challenges in the 21st century—from the drought in California to the need for policy solutions that address water trading opportunities—and to develop forward-thinking pathways to improve our water system.