Opinion: Proceed with caution on instream flow reservations


Water has always been a public resource, held in trust by the state for all its citizens.

But for the first time, the State of Alaska is granting rights to our State’s waters to private entities.

In exercising its trust responsibilities, the State can reserve water, or instream flows, for specific purposes such as for municipal water sources, navigation, or fish and wildlife.

In the past, the State has held such reservations itself, given that decisions could be altered if the public interest would be better served.

Recently, however, the state’s Department of Natural Resources has determined that instream flow reservations can be granted to private entities.

This brings into question whether these reservations can be altered or modified in the future if a better need arises.

For example, could a reservation held by a private entity such as the Nature Conservancy be modified to allow for municipal water needs, or to provide carbon neutral power sources, or for oil and gas development? Would the State have to enter into litigation to alter a reservation granted to a private entity?

Water is a key and necessary element for our state to provide for its citizens and their needs. Allowing private entities to hold water reservations potentially allows these entities to dictate future development opportunities across our state.

This could allow private entities to strategically hold water reservations that would allow them to dictate our economic future.

We should not allow a private entity holding a reservation to disallow the state from developing a hydroelectric power plant to reduce the astronomically high power costs in rural Alaska.

Don’t get me wrong, it is not wrong to reserve water for specific purposes. But these reservations should be held by the State, and not private entities. I encourage you to contact the Department of Natural Resources and your legislators to ensure our water rights remain held in trust by the State.

Doug Vincent-Lang is a retired biologist who worked with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game for over 30 years.  During his tenure with the department, he served as an Assistant Director for Sport Fisheries and as the Director for Wildlife Conservation.  He serves on several boards, including the Alaska Chapter of Safari Club International, the Resource Development Council, and the Outdoor Heritage Foundation of Alaska. 


  1. It looks like I will miss the District 7 meeting tonight. on Waterway matters it would behoove the State to become familiar with Gibbons vs. Ogden U.S. Supreme Court and Cooley vs. The Philadelphia Board of Wardens U.S. Supreme Court.
    Chief Justice Marshall delivering the majority opinion stated; “Any law of the State not withstanding which prohibits vessels duly licensed according to the laws of the United States from navigating waters of the State is repugnant to said Constitution and void.”

  2. Water rights are critical in Alaska. The Mat-Su has several areas where water must be constantly stored in large tanks in order to provide enough for the families using it. Except in the instance of private water rights through the registering of well capacity, the right to the natural resource should not be in the hands of private entities. Potable water is going to become more and more of a problem as Alaska grows.

    Alaska’s waterways, lakes and aquifers must be treated as all of our natural resources are, held in protection by the state for the people.

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