Oct 31, 2013

New Guidance to Protect America's Water, Reduce Costs

Publication identifies opportunities for investing in forests to ensure clean water

Water Resources Institute Publication Natural Infrastructure

A group of water experts has released new guidance for U.S. resource managers to expand the availability of clean water through the conservation and restoration of forests and other natural infrastructure. The publication, “Natural Infrastructure: Investing in Forested Landscapes for Source Water Protection in the United States,” builds on several innovative efforts across the U.S. and provides real world examples where water managers are saving money by investing in natural infrastructure.

Led by the World Resources Institute in collaboration with Earth Economics and Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences, the publication outlines the economics and science of natural infrastructure investments and identifies opportunities across the country, with key lessons for program design and implementation. The publication is the most comprehensive of its kind to date, convening the expertise of 56 authors spanning the stakeholder groups that need to be involved for natural infrastructure efforts to be successful.

In addition to detailed guidance, Natural Infrastructure provides a look at the current state of practice of natural infrastructure approaches, showing ample opportunity and an expanding toolkit for securing forests for water. For example:

In Colorado, after the devastating 2002 Hayman fire that cost $26 million to manage the water quality impacts alone, Denver Water committed $16.5 million in matching funds, alongside the U.S. Forest Service, to implement catastrophic wildfire risk mitigation measures, like prescribed burning and mechanical thinning.

In Maine, the board of the Portland Water District recently voted unanimously to dramatically scale up investments in conservation easements (up to 25% of the conservation value) in its rapidly developing watershed. While Portland continues to enjoy high quality source water, the city can maintain its high standards and avoid treatment costs by securing its forested watershed.

The city of Raleigh, N.C., has allocated $7.5 million since 2005 for strategic land conservation to help address declining water quality in its primary reservoir. Working together, land trusts, landowners, municipalities and other government agencies have used voluntary measures to protect over 6,000 priority acres along 63 miles of stream in Raleigh’s watershed.

The publication follows on a meeting of natural infrastructure leaders at the World Resources Institute’s Washington, D.C., office in September. The meeting highlighted the publication’s key findings and set a course for scaling up natural infrastructure investment in communities across the country.