BEF (Bonneville Environmental Foundation) started its Water Restoration Certificate® (WRC) program a decade ago. Inspiration for the WRC product was based on BEF’s experience from a decade earlier when the organization created “Green Tags” now known as Renewable Energy Credits (RECs). The idea for WRCs was two-fold:


  • Provide organizations with a simple way to balance a water footprint
  • Provide a solution to rivers and streams in the West that were suffering from chronically low flows and / or running dry at certain times of year

The first WRC projects were in Oregon’s Middle Deschutes River and Montana’s Prickly Pear Creek. These initial projects focused on working within “use it or lose it” water law in the West. Laws such as these essentially viewed any water not being used for human benefit to be “wasted,” thereby incentivizing water rights holders to use more water than they needed in order to retain their valuable water rights. Many of these early projects worked with water rights holders to designate any unused water left in stream as “beneficial use” for the environment. Meaning, water rights holders could now be incentivized to use only the water they needed (to irrigate, farm, etc) while leaving the remaining water in stream. This water left in stream was designated as “used” by the environment, allowing them to retain their valuable water rights. The water rights holder then received payment for leaving this water in stream and the first WRCs were created.

BEF worked with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to establish a set of rigorous environmental criteria for WRC project selection. BEF provides all project documentation along with independent third-party review of the project to the Markit Environmental Registry where WRC inventory is generated and retired (the same registry used for carbon offset retirement). Each WRC represents 1,000 gallons of water restored.

Early adopters of WRCs were breweries in the Pacific Northwest and a handful of purpose driven brands, including WhiteWave Foods (now part of Danone North America). Early support for WRCs enabled BEF to expand its project portfolio to incorporate multiple different types of restoration projects to address unique watershed challenges in different regions. Project types range from improving efficient use of water in agriculture, to meadow and wetland restoration, groundwater replenishment and much more. Our current Project Bank provides a portfolio overview.

BEF began to become a resource for companies seeking to address their water footprint in regions where their companies have operational or value chain water risk. As BEF partnered with companies, the organization served as a critical bridge between companies and on-the-ground project partners (typically other nonprofit organizations). For companies seeking a volume-based quantification of water improved or restored, BEF worked with other industry organizations (such as LimnoTech, WaterCourse Engineering and others) to translate the benefits from such projects into volumetric estimates that could be claimed against a water footprint.

The WRC evolved during this time to become a tool for smaller companies and / or entities seeking points to earn against certifications such as LEED®, B Corp, or the Alliance for Water Stewardship. These reporting standards accept BEF’s WRCs as a market-based tool to balance a water footprint.

The World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Risk Report has declared water crises among the top-five risks in terms of impact for eight consecutive years. Alongside the WEF declaration, BEF witnessed the evolution of corporate environmental water stewardship from considerations such as “what is a water footprint and how do we address it” to “we have identified our water footprint, we know our key geographies at risk for water stress, and we want to not only balance our own water footprint but we desire to collaborate with others to address shared challenges at the watershed level.” Companies understand they cannot operate in locations without a secure water supply – not only from an operational standpoint, but also from the standpoint of quality of life for their employees.

BEF has also participated in the evaluation of other water credit products as well as the development of Volumetric Water Benefit Accounting (VWBA) – an industry collaboration that provides corporate water stewardship practitioners a standardized approach and set of indicators to estimate and communicate the volumetric benefits of water stewardship activities. Because providing a volume of water alone does not guarantee shared water challenges are reduced, VWBA also provides activity guidelines to increase the likelihood of generating social, economic and environmental benefits of solving shared water challenges in the catchment, and complementary indicators to measure non-volumetric outputs of investments.

In light of the sobering news about water stresses around the world, there’s an opportunity for more businesses, large and small, to promote and invest in water-smart policies and programs. The business sector can be a transformative leader in ensuring our communities have plentiful clean water for generations to come. The possibilities are endless. And the time is now.

Val Fishman has over 10 years’ experience leading sustainability partnerships to support water stewardship programs that include public and stakeholder engagement. Val is a corporate sustainability authority, educating businesses and consumers on energy and environmental water stewardship.