Current laws penalize the owners of water rights, reducing incentives to conserve. Rob Harmon has an idea for how the market can keep streams flowing.
Water rights are usually awarded to the people who were there first, although details vary by state and locality. However, if the owners of water rights don’t use their allocation of water, they can lose the right to that water and all the economic value that goes along with that. The owners of water rights have no incentive to conserve since that puts their water rights at risk.
Rob Harmon highlights a project that addresses that difficulty. The water rights owners are paid by downstream users to leave the water in the stream or river. It’s a clever solution and rather simple. He goes into more detail in this TED talk.