Protecting land and the water that flows from it

August is National Water Quality Month, an opportunity to remind oneself of the essential role water plays in the survival of life on Earth.

By Andrew Szwak August 9

For us humans, clean water should be of concern to everyone, so it shouldn’t be surprising that polling has consistently shown that when confronted with multiple environmental issues, Americans consistently identify water quality and pollution as the most worrisome. The upshot is that pursuing strategies to protect clean water could open the door to finding common ground on protecting the environment.

There is an intimate connection between what happens on our land and the health of the water that flows from it. Protecting a watershed’s natural land cover and preserving forest land can provide natural filtration and reduce the need for costly water treatment facilities. This connection is visible in land protection projects focused on reservoirs, like in the Catskill Mountains upstream of New York City. More recently, cities like Portland, Maine;  Raleigh, North Carolina; and Wilmington, Delaware have invested significant public resources in the protection of upstream watersheds to ensure safe, reliable and affordable water for their residents.

Much work remains, however, and securing clean water is a major concern in places like Toledo, Ohio; Charleston, West Virginia; Midland, Michigan; and so many more communities that have lost access to clean water or experienced water-related disasters.

The good news: The link between land and water protection means that land trusts are perfectly positioned to lead high-profile water quality initiatives that are critically important to communities where they work. And already, land trusts across the country are serving their communities through actions like:

  • Protecting wetlands that intercept and filter polluted precipitation

  • Planting trees along rivers and streams

  • Encouraging farming practices that hold topsoil in place

But more needs to be — and can be — done.

That’s why the Land Trust Alliance is supporting land trusts that want to elevate the water quality work that they do. In June, the Alliance awarded grants to eight land trusts for leading water quality partnerships in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. We have also published a new guide: “Taking the Plunge: Guidance and Inspiration to Help Land Trusts Protect and Restore Water Quality.” This guide outlines the legal framework around water quality, walks land trusts through incorporating water quality into their work, and compiles 12 inspirational stories of land trusts that have successfully protected and restored water quality. Combined with a new resource from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency entitled “Advancing Watershed Protection through Land Conservation: A Guide for Land Trusts,” land trusts throughout the United States will now have the information and support needed to make a positive impact on water quality in their communities.