And this is true for many of us – the majority of Americans get their drinking water from surface water, including streams and rivers, and so keeping our rivers and lakes clean and flowing is critical for reliable supplies. To do this, it’s important to keep rainfall soaking into the ground, filtering and cleaning that water and allowing it to recharge local streams, providing in many places the basic level of water (referred to as baseflow).
Better protecting the land areas where our water comes from (the source water watershed) and better protecting the small streams and wetlands that provide drinking water for millions of Americans are two important ways to protect clean drinking water. When we pave over natural areas as part of the typical development process, the rainfall that would usually soak into the ground and replenish our streams and rivers is instead routed quickly downstream as polluted stormwater runoff. And this can have a big impact.
Using preventative approaches, including land protection, that use “natural” infrastructure to complement engineered infrastructure have shown to be cost effective, smart investments. Fortunately, Raleigh adopted a watershed protection program, the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative, that funds watershed protection through a small fee on drinking water ratepayers. Land protection in the 770 mi2 Upper Neuse watershed is coordinated by the Conservation Trust for North Carolina who works with a group of land trusts, including Triangle Land Conservancy, to identify, prioritize and permanently protect land that flows into drinking water supplies that serve more than 600,000 people. So far, Raleigh’s investment has paid off at a 14:1 ratio for the City with $69 million in land protection, including 72 miles of streams buffered, for an investment by Raleigh of just $4 million.
A newly established watershed protection advisory task force convened by Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane is delving into this program provide assessment and recommendations for improvement. TLC will be following the work of the Task Force as they look to the future of clean water in the region.