Water Policy

Water is basic to all life and is a finite resource. Water quality and water quantity are integral to issues such as energy, land use, and maintenance of a healthy environment for plants, wildlife and humanity. Access to potable, sufficient and affordable water is a human right. Proper management of water is essential so that present and future generations may survive and flourish. To promote proper management for a healthy  and  aesthetically pleasing natural environment, the Sierra Club adopts the following Water Policy. The policy is based on the principle that total water demand, which includes maintaining adequate streamflows, lake and groundwater levels where applicable, must be less than or equal to water supply.

Instream Flows

Minimum instream flows for the benefit of recreation, water quality, fish and wildlife, and scenic values should protected by law. A moratorium on additional withdrawals and diversions must be immediately imposed where ecosystems are presently in jeopardy. Comprehensive programs to ensure protection of instream flows should be enacted in states and provinces where they do not now exist, and should be implemented in all states and provinces. Specially managed buffer zones should be maintained on sides of steams through farmlands, logging areas, or other areas under development to help protect instream flows.

Wild and Scenic Rivers

Effective wild, scenic, and recreational river protection programs should be enacted in every state and province. Federal, state or provincial, and local programs should be fully implemented to preserve unique areas.


Natural wetlands should be managed for their environmental values. All federal and state or provincial programs should be implemented to ensure that wetlands are protected. State, provincial, and local governments should adopt protective laws and effective implementation programs.


In flood protection, emphasis should be placed not on structural controls, but on floodplain management, including floodproofing and relocation of existing structures as appropriate, and zoning for compatible uses to control future development. To maximize environmental benefits, floodplains should be utilized for wetlands, agriculture, parks, greenbelts, groundwater recharge, buffer zones for protection of instream uses, and other uses compatible with the flood hazard. Structural devices should not be used where they would encourage development in floodplains. Coastal floodplains must also be protected.


In each state and province, priorities for different water uses should be written into law, to protect basic human and environmental requirements. The priority rankings may vary regionally.

Water Inventory

Thorough water inventories, including historic water yields and uses, should be conducted of all water resources of environmental importance, with priority where substantial demands are anticipated.

Coordinated Ground and Surface Water Management

Federal, state and provincial laws should take into account the physical interrelationship of ground and surface water. Rights in both sources of supply should be integrated, and their management should be coordinated. The available water in a basin should be managed on a sustained-yield basis. Where groundwater is relatively isolated from the surface water and receives insignificant recharge, the government should determine and optimum useful life of the aquifer and control withdrawals accordingly. Controls should be established in water-short areas to ensure equitable distribution. Projects and proposals should be stopped if they would significantly damage aquifers or other natural features such as springs or caves.


Programs should be pursued to improve the water retention capacity of the land, reduce water consumption, and promote water recycling. Allocations, building codes, metering, and pricing should aim to encourage conservation. All water users, including beneficiaries of federal water projects, should pay the full cost of water deliveries. States should have comprehensive water conservation plans as a condition to any funding by the federal government.

In areas where loss is significant, irrigation ditches should be lined.

Interbasin Diversion

There should be a moratorium on major new interbasin diversions of water until the ground and surface water interrelationships and ecological, social, economic, and land-use implications of such diversions are fully understood and appropriate protection has been established by law.

Federal Agencies

Federal agencies with water management responsibilities should be directed to shift from the design and construction of major structural water development projects to such activities as operation and maintenance of those projects already in existence; flood emergency planning; dissemination of information and provision of support needed for land-use regulation of floodplains; floodplain maintenance; regulation of dredge and fill of the nation's rivers and harbors and contiguous wetlands; public education; and improving the efficiency of water use in water-short regions. All federal agencies with water management roles should comply with the Water Resources Council's principles and standards.

Water Quality

An adequate water quality data base must be developed and existing quality higher than federal standards must be preserved. The Clean Water Act should be aggressively enforced by all agencies with water management responsibilities and should not be weakened. Point-source pollution should be eliminated, best management practices for air and water-borne pollutants should be developed, and adequate funding should be provided to implement control of non-point sources. Soil conservation measures and site development ordinances that protect water quality should be encouraged. Groundwater, oceans, and coastal waters must also be protected. No water projects that violate federal, state or provincial water quality laws should be built.

Forests and Ranges

Activities in forest and range watersheds must be managed to ensure that erosion does not exceed the normal geologic rate and that water quality and quantity are maintained. Attempts to alter water yield should not damage other natural resource values.

Energy New energy developments should not be allowed if fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, instream stock watering, scenic and recreational values, or existing agricultural operations would be significantly damaged. Aquifers must be protected from depletion or degradation. Development of alternative energy systems requiring minimal water supply should be encouraged.

Urban Water Systems

Water resource public works funding priorities should be shifted to those projects and programs that would conserve existing water supplies. These would include municipal pipeline maintenance and leak repair, installation of redundancy and bypass capacity in conveyance systems, reuse and reclamation of storm water and sewage effluent, and other structural and nonstructural conservation measures for urban water systems.

Adopted by the Board of Directors, November 10-11, 1979; amended July 8, 1995

Guidelines for Evaluating Proposed Federal Water Project Transfers

Legislative and administrative proposals to transfer federal water and power facilities and related assets to non-federal entities should be considered carefully. On the one hand, they could have detrimental impacts on the environment and other interests; on the other, they can provide opportunities to mitigate past environmental damage and otherwise enhance the environment. Therefore, transfers should be authorized and approved only under conditions that enhance the environment and provide continuing protection of other public interests, as follows:

1. Fair Price - The federal taxpayer is entitled to a fair price for any facilities or assets transferred, one that should be set in light of the market value of the facilities. At a minimum, no federal water or power facility should be transferred for a price less than the present value of all associated outstanding repayment obligations, irrespective of adjustments or of the allocation of facility or asset costs among different uses. In addition, the value of any land or other non-water or non-power assets transferred, as well as the present value of any other anticipated receipts to the U.S. Treasury, should either be added to the minimum price or, preferably, reflected in environmental improvements, including ecologically beneficial land given by the transferee, determined as a result of sections 4 and 5, below.

2. Federal Control - Some federal water and power facilities play a critical role in watershed and river management for multiple purposes or in the interstate or international allocation of resources. Control of these facilities should be retained by the federal government.

3. Compliance with Environmental Laws - All transfers should comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act, and other federal environmental laws. All transferred facilities should operate in full compliance with such laws.

4. Facility-Specific Transfer Plans - Transfers should be carried out only pursuant to facility-specific plans developed by the applicable federal agencies with the input of all stakeholders. The plans should contain minimum terms and conditions that will require transferees to:

a. protect existing water resource values that could be affected by the transfers;

b. mitigate environment impacts to fish and wildlife, and otherwise enhance the environment;

c. promote the protection and restoration of threatened and endangered species, through measures that may include development and implementation of a habitat conservation plan;

d. use any power generation or transmission facilities in a manner consistent with national energy policy, especially to support non-hydroelectric renewable resources; and

e. avoid adverse impacts on the federal government's ability to fulfill its treaty and trust responsibilities to Indian tribes.

5. Competitive Bidding - Once the above minimum terms and conditions are established, the choice of a transferee and the final transfer price should be made on the basis of bids obtained competitively, in which both price and non-price terms are evaluated.

6. FERC License - Facility-specific transfer plans that include hydroelectric facilities must be incorporated into a special, one-time, temporary Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license, which should be enforceable as if it were a conventional FERC license. Upon expiration of the special license, a transferee must obtain and operate facilities pursuant to a FERC license issued under the Federal Power Act and other laws applicable to non-federal hydropower facilities, without waiver.

7. Public Oversight - There should be full disclosure of and access to all information material to a full and fair evaluation of any transfer proposal. Appropriate mechanisms for ongoing public oversight of any transferred facilities must be provided so as to assure compliance with the terms and conditions of the transfer.

8. Impact on the Federal Budget - For federal budgetary purposes, net transfer proceeds should reflect both the total receipts from the transfer as well as the total expected revenues foregone by the U.S. Treasury, using the same time periods and discount rates for each revenue stream.

Approved by Wild Planet Strategy Team, Sept. 7, 2004