"Protecting the land around our water sources is critical to ensuring our water supplies for the future. Unfortunately, 40 percent of source watershed areas show high to moderate levels of degradation. More than 30 percent of the area encompassed by urban source watersheds in Asia is highly modified by human development." - Giulio Boccaletti, global MD, Conservancy’s Water program
With ever-increasing demands for clean and reliable water worldwide protecting the land that surrounds our water sources is becoming more and more vital. The Nature Conservancy has released a new study in partnership with the Natural Capital Project, Forest Trends, the Inter-American Development Bank and the Latin American Water Funds Partnership, examining the source watersheds of over 4,000 large cities worldwide, with more than 1800 in the Asia Pacific region. The final report, titled Beyond the Source: The Environmental, Economic and Community Benefits of Source Water Protection, reveals how nature-based solutions, like reforestation and improved agricultural practices, can be put into place at a scale that makes an actual visible difference in sustainable development - with the potential to improve the lives of billions of people!
The study revealed that water quality can be improved simply by forest protection, pastureland reforestation and using cover crops as an agricultural practice. Four of five cities analysed showed a decrease of sediment and nutrient pollution by at least 10 percent. A global increase of US$42 billion to US$48 billion annually on watershed environmental service payment programs can improve water security for over 1.4 billion people by focusing on the most cost-effective watersheds. This can be funded by demonstrating to various potential sponsors the business case for water. Asian-Pacific cities have the most to gain from this modest investment in water protection, which can significantly reduce pollution in water sources with measurable result, for as low as US$2 or less per person per year.
Not only are water funds that enable downstream water users to fund upstream land conservation and restoration a successful way to secure improved water quality, it can also ensure more reliable water flows. The study reveals that one in six cities, about 690 cities with over 433 million people globally, has the potential to fully offset conservation costs just by water treatment savings alone. By protecting fisheries and improving farmland, these solutions can also preserve plant and animal biodiversity, building more resilient and healthy communities.
But it's not only about the cost, we need forward-looking cities, utilities firms, land stewards, lawmakers, corporations and philanthropists to secure a more sustainable water future and support the development of healthier, more resilient communities.