Conducting research to promote sustainable, equitable, and practical solutions to the pressing water problems of the American West.

Research fellow, Doug Kenney, heads up this program to highlight innovations in water policy and law, with the goal of identifying the most productive solutions for innovation in water policy and water law.  WWPP seeks to influence positive change for water policy in the west, being receptive to various ideas, including economic and administrative reforms, technological innovations, and social change. 

For more information on the Getches-Wilkinson Center, Western Water Policy Program please visit:

The Western Water Policy Program confronts three main challenges:
  1. Promoting implementation of a comprehensive vision of improved water management in the west.
  2. Investigating current issues and case studies in the region, identifying key trends, and focusing on the primary stressors of population growth and climate change.
  3. Identifying and promoting specific legal and policy innovations at multiple levels of government and in multiple decision-making venues.

Current Projects


Colorado River Critical Infrastructure Needs by GWC Senior Fellow, Anne Castle (A White Paper by the Walton Family Foundation)

Colorado River Critical Infrastructure Needs

New Papers on Water Shepherding in the Colorado River Basin

To avoid possible curtailment of water uses from the Colorado River and its tributaries, Colorado and other Upper Basin states are experimenting with temporarily reducing some consumptive uses to make water available as a storage buffer in Lake Powell. This paper and its technical appendix examine the legal and policy issues associated with acquiring such water and “shepherding” it to Lake Powell, focusing primarily on Colorado but addressing the need for the water to pass through other states and to be managed once it reaches Lake Powell for compact security purposes.

Shepherding Appropriated Water Within Colorado and to Lake Powell for Colorado River Compact Study

Technical Appendix Legal Analysis: Sherpherding Appropriated Water

Alternate Transfer Methods

Colorado's Water Plan documents not only the anticipated gap between water supply and demand over the next decades, but also the need to avoid or reduce "buy and dry" transactions that permanently remove water rights from irrigated farmland to facilitate a transfer to municipal use.  The Plan proposes increased use of Alternative Transfer Methods, or ATMs, that facilitate sharing of water between farmers and cities without undermining continued agricultural use of the water.  Several significant discussions about ATMs and how to make them attractive took place during the fall of 2016.  This report documents the discussions, conclusions, and recommendations from those meetings, and outlines a path forward that will allow Colorado to meet its future needs while retaining its agricultural heritage. Co-authors include John Stulp, Governor Hickenlooper's water advisor, Anne Castle, Senior Fellow with the Getches-Wilkinson Center, and principals at the Colorado Water Institute.

Where now with Alternate Transfer Methods-ATMs-in Colorado

Cost of "New" Water on Colorado's Front Range

Cities looking to augment water supplies often have three major choices:

  • Build (or expand) new projects;
  • Buy agricultural water rights;
  • Implement conservation programs. 

In Phase 1 of this project, we examined the relative costs of each approach, determining that conservation appeared to be the cheapest option.  In order to form a more accurate picture, in Phase 2, we collected more data on this particular option, which highlighted the revenue challenges that a conservation-based approach creates for water utilities.

Colorado River Governance Initiative (CRGI)

CRGI identifies institutional reforms to address the current and emerging concerns over water scarcity on the Colorado River.  This continues to be a challenge moving forward as combined forces of population growth, climate change, new energy development, and drought events are likely to overwhelm the capacity of the Colorado River system to meet all these water demands. 

Colorado State Water Plan Project: Recent Publications

The Getches-Wilkinson Center has been provided with philanthropic funding to examine the Colorado Water Plan (CWP) and provide in-depth analysis and research on a few of the most promising action areas.  This research has formed the basis for discussions with key players in the Colorado water community to determine the best practical approaches to ensure that implementation of the many good ideas in the CWP actually occurs.  The research and analysis, together with implementation recommendations, are discussed in the papers available below.

Proposal for an Enhanced Colorado Water Bank

An Enhanced Water Bank for Colorado

Improving Irrigation Water Uses for Agricultural and Environmental Benefits

Enhancing Watershed Planning in Implementation of the Colorado Water Plan: An Overview of Implementation Challenges and Opportunities

A Look at Laws Authorizing Uses of Conserved and Saved Water in California, Montana, Oregon, and Washington

Watershed Planning and Management in Colorado: Getches-Wilkinson Center Working Paper

Integrated Land and Water Planning in Colorado

Colorado River Future Project

The Colorado River Future project, led by Senior Fellow Anne Castle, has worked to develop policy recommendations on Colorado River Management for consideration by the leadership in the Department of the Interior in the Trump Administration. To inform these recommendations, a small team interviewed more than 65 key players involved in the Colorado River, encompassing state leadership, major municipal water suppliers, tribal representatives, environmental NGOs, and other smart and knowledgeable people. The Team members found a remarkable degree of consensus concerning issues that should be prioritized and the extreme urgency associated with the need for the new Federal team to get up to speed and involved as quickly as possible.

The project has produced two recommendations papers that have been transmitted to the Administration and transition teams. The first paper is a distillation of the two most critical priorities that will immediately confront the new Secretary of the Interior, the second document provides more detail intended to be helpful to senior-level leadership in Interior and the White House.

The Colorado River: A Roadmap for the Secretary of the Interior

Colorado River Policy: Opportunities for Tangible Progress