Hockey Goes Green Again

Game three of the Stanley Cup is underway, and unless you are a fan of the Vancouver Canucks or the Boston Bruins, you may not really care.  Maybe you’re a fan of the San Jose Sharks or the Tampa Bay Lightning and you are still trying to comprehend that this isn’t going to be your year.  But, regardless of which team you cheer for, NHL Green (the National Hockey League’s sustainability initiative) recently made an announcement that all hockey fans can be proud of.

Last Wednesday, on the first day of the best-of-seven game series, NHL Green announced that the 2011 Stanley Cup would be the first ever “water-neutral” series in the history of the National Hockey League.  This represents the latest efforts of NHL Green to make professional hockey as sustainable as possible.  With water being a key ingredient for the game of hockey, it makes sense that conserving water would be a priority for the initiative. 

How does the NHL plan to make the Stanley Cup “water neutral?”  

To begin with, every drop of water used at the Stanley Cup this year will be tracked.  That includes everything from the ice on the arena floor to the ice cubes handed out in thousands of drinks to the water used from every faucet.  Once that amount has been calculated, the National Hockey League will work with the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to ensure that an equal amount of water is returned to a troubled stretch of the Deschutes River, which is in Oregon.  

The National Hockey League will be purchasing Water Restoration Certificates from Bonneville Environmental Foundation (BEF).  BEF created the Water Restoration Certificate program in 2009 to enable businesses and other agencies to offset their water use.  It is the first national, market-based program that uses purchased credits to restore river flow to deteriorating fresh water habitats in America.  Each Water Restoration Certificate purchased by the NHL at the conclusion of the Stanley Cup represents 1,000 gallons of water.  Regardless of the actual amount of water used at the Stanley Cup, the NHL has committed to purchasing at least 1,000 Water Restoration Certificates.  Consequentially, the NHL will be helping to restore at least 1 million gallons of water to the Middle Deschutes river. 

Where will the water come from?

This agreement does not mean that the NHL is paying the Bonneville Environmental Foundation to move 1 million gallons of water from a healthy ecosystem to an unhealthy ecosystem.  The way that Water Restoration Credits work is by creating an economic incentive for landowners along the river not to use the water in the river.  Water laws in many western states give water rights to those who own land surrounding rivers.  Landowners are given water permits which delineate how much water they are legally allowed to extract from the river.  When river waters are running low, especially in dry summer months, the combined volume of water permits often exceeds the amount of water in the river.  Compounding this issue is the fact water laws dictate landowners must use their allotted amount of water, or they risk losing their water rights.  The end result, not surprisingly, leads to rivers that run dry.

Fortunately, however, water laws are beginning to evolve.  The law declares that water must be used for permit holders for a “beneficial use”.  In the past, leaving the water running in the river was not classified as a beneficial use but that is beginning to change.  Many water rights holders are now permitted to leave the water as is without risking losing their rights.  This is where the Bonneville Environmental Foundation’s Water Restoration Certificates come in.  Now that not using the water is an option, BEF creates an economic incentive for landowners not to use the water.  They essentially use the funds gained from selling Water Restoration Certificates to pay landowners to leave the water in the river.  

The BEF’s Water Restoration Certificate program has been hugely successful in restoring multiple watersheds in the Pacific Northwest.  This recently announced collaboration with the National Hockey League will enable them to continue renewing damaged ecosystems, and hopefully will inspire similarly green initiatives from other professional sports leagues.

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