Mark Twain — one of the quintessential voices of American literature — is credited with saying that whiskey is for drinking while water is for fighting. And no wonder. Our country is a vast array of diverse people who live in places where water plays very different, but similarly important, roles in our lives.
Millions drink from reservoirs and rivers that are miles away while others tap groundwater beneath their feet. Those of us in the East often get too much water while our friends out West remain in a drought. Still others have the right amount of water, but it is often too polluted, hot or salty. As a result, it can be hard to agree on what national policies, if any, our country should adopt to manage our water. Cue the fisticuffs.
Despite all these differences, there is an intimate connection between water and the land around it, regardless of where in the country you are. Groundwater gets recharged (or not) by rain and snow percolating through the land above it. Lakes and rivers absorb everything that runs off the land. The quality of those waters reflect the quality of land in its watershed. And there are many places, where land and water converge in wetlands and marshes, that buffer us from some of the worst impacts of having too much water.
So, while we all may have different sources, quantities, qualities and relationships with water, we all share a dependence on the lands from which our waters flow. In other words, land is the answer to the water challenges that face our country.
This means that land trusts have an outsized role to play. Land trusts can preserve floodplains and recharge zones, restore wetlands and streambanks, host cleanup days, run citizen science programs and provide boat ramps. There is no shortage of work that land trusts can do to improve our nation’s water resources.
Thankfully, there are many great organizations who are ready and willing to partner with land trusts to protect land and water quality. According to the River Network, more than 8,500 organizations address water-related issues. (See its map to find one near you.) National associations can also help make important connections. They include the Association of State Floodplain Managers, National Association of Conservation Districts, Waterkeeper Alliance and many more.
The land trust community is already home to experts on how to protect land and improve water in the many different forms it takes. The names of their organizations hint at the diversity of work that they do: Great Rivers Land Trust in Illinois, The Wetlands Conservancy in Oregon, Great Swamp Watershed Association in New Jersey, Lake Champlain Land Trust in Vermont, Galveston Bay Foundation in Texas, Escondido Creek Conservancy in California … and so on.
Please consider this an invitation — and a challenge — for your land trust to seek out a partner and explore water work you can pursue together. And let me know how it goes! We would love to highlight your work on this blog throughout the year. Thanks for being in the fight!