Looking Back at the First Year of the NRIC

A wide river curves through a valley as snow dusted mountains rise on both sides.
Jeff Klein, Executive Director of Natural Resource Investment Center

It certainly has been an active year for the Natural Resource Investment Center (NRIC). Since our formation in January, we have worked to spread our message and establish relationships across the Department and among key external stakeholders, including, the private investment community, NGO's, governments, foundations and other federal agencies. 

During these conversations, we have reiterated that non-federal financial support of water infrastructure upgrades and expansion, and species, habitat and wetlands mitigation is critical if we are to meet the enormous need in these areas. Our role at the NRIC is to cultivate investor interest by working to make the government be a better partner in terms of infrastructure partnerships, grant delivery, and ecological impact assessment, process and approval timelines.

We still have a lot of work to do as we are in the early days of this important initiative, and this will necessarily be an area of continuous improvement. The private sector has helped us educate our colleagues across DOI with respect to what drives their investment interest, and what their requirements are. The Center serves as an important portal into DOI and the bureaus are developing an increased understanding and appreciation for the role non-federal capital will play in supporting conservation. At the same time, the Center can discuss the important infrastructure and natural resource assets managed by the Department, and assist non-federal partners in developing projects that advance the Department’s mission and that open opportunities for investment.

In this sense, the Center has laid the groundwork for accelerated project identification, initial progress towards creating investible structures and, ultimately successful and measurable outcomes. All of these are key components of making natural resource conservation genuinely sustainable. 

Our biggest successes have been reflected in the increased willingness of teams across DOI to engage in interactive dialog on prospective projects. The Center has been actively engaged on an innovative initiative in the Yakima Basin that should help define how diverse stakeholders can collaborate to generate a multitude of solid environmental benefits while producing an investment-worthy project. We are working with the WaterSMART team on enhanced programs to support innovation in Water Markets and to make the investment market more aware of partnering opportunities on the Energy and Water grant program. The Center also collaborated with the Bureau of Reclamation on research of the role the Bureau plays in facilitating water trading. Finally, important formative work is taking place in identifying and advancing water infrastructure projects through outreach and education on the application of public-private partnership techniques.

We are continuing to take steps to build our relationships in the landscape mitigation and conservation banking arenas. New ideas and projects are brought to our attention quite regularly, and each one presents a potential opportunity for private sector financing of ecosystem conservation. The establishment of new policies guiding mitigation practices in the Department signals Interior’s interest in this space and provides clarity/certainty for potential participants. Bringing these ideas to reality – taking the Department from policy to practice – is the focus of our work.

All told, it has been an intense year of research, analysis, learning and communicating across out stakeholder universe. We are working diligently to identify and advance partnerships with the private sector. It is no simple task to solve the challenges of western water and balance development of our landscapes while remaining true to the important stewardship responsibilities DOI proudly embraces. But we are more convinced than ever that it is necessary, and we are poised within Interior to achieve our collective objectives in the coming years.