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An overview of water reallocation and the barriers to its implementation

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The growing number of areas facing water scarcity necessitates adaptive water management strategies beyond traditional water supply and demand management methods, which are becoming increasingly difficult in many regions. Water reallocation offers a flexible water management approach to mitigate water scarcity under changing socioeconomic, climatic, and environmental conditions. In spite of the numerous benefits of reallocating water between users, examples of successful water transfers are relatively sparse and the expected benefits are rarely met in full due to several complex impediments. This study overviews the current body of water reallocation literature, with a particular focus on the key barriers to wider implementation of water reallocation. We argue that to overcome these obstacles a more interdisciplinary approach to water reallocation should be advanced that couples developments in the natural sciences and engineering disciplines with current water reallocation scholarship, which is predominately rooted in the social sciences. Many examples of water transfers from around the world are used to illustrate both the benefits and challenges associated with reallocation, as well as to identify measures to overcome some of the major difficulties. We conclude by calling for an integrated research platform that focuses on supporting both voluntary and nonvoluntary forms of water reallocation; however, a greater emphasis should be on nonmarket means of water transfer since it is more feasible for many regions where water rights are not well defined and institutional capacity is insufficient. WIREs Water 2016, 3:658–677. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1159 This article is categorized under: Engineering Water > Planning Water Human Water > Water Governance Human Water > Water as Imagined and Represented
(a) Initially, water demands (red inner‐circle) can be easily met by renewable water supplies, which are much greater in size (blue outer‐circle). (b) Over time, water demands grow and supplies are expanded through engineering measures, as is illustrated by the expansion of both the inner circle and outer circle, representing increasing water demands and supplies, respectively. As water demands approach available supplies, water is allocated amongst each of the current users, as represented by the division and coloring of the inner demand circle. (c) Water demands eventually outpace available supplies (inner demand circle now larger than water supply circle), leading to over‐allocation, water scarcity, and environmental degradation. Under this condition, water allocations are fixed and no new uses can occur due to a lack of unappropriated waters. (d) Water reallocation remedies this common occurrence by allowing water use to return within sustainable limits through allocations to the environment (decrease in the size of the inner water demand circle) and permitting water rights to be transferred between new and existing users (new users represented by additional fragmentation of demand circle, while the size of each slice—i.e., the amount allocated to each user—can dynamically change as well).
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Percentage of total reservoir storage reallocated under the Water Supply Act of 1958 (abscissa) for 44 different‐sized (ordinate) US Army Corps of Engineers’ reservoirs. The size of each bubble represents the relative volume of reallocated storage. The majority of dams have had less than 3% of their storage reallocated. Data are obtained from Ref .
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