Protecting Water by Protecting Land
How do we stop pollution from reaching the streams, rivers and reservoirs that provide our drinking water? One of the most effective ways to protect drinking water sources is to protect the land around them. Forests, wetlands, and open fields slow down rain and runoff, giving water time to filter gradually through the soil. This traps sediment and pollutants before they flow into streams and lakes, and allows groundwater to recharge.
Land trusts work with landowners, state and local governments, and other conservation organizations to protect drinking water sources across North Carolina. In the Piedmont, one of the most effective efforts is the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative (UNCWI). CTNC coordinates this partnership of seven nonprofit organizations and local governments that seeks to protect the lands most critical for ensuring the long-term health of drinking water supplies in the Upper Neuse River Basin.
The 770-square-mile Upper Neuse basin contains nine public drinking water reservoirs (Falls Lake, Lake Michie, Little River Reservoir, Lake Holt, Lake Orange, New Hillsborough Lake, Corporation Lake, Lake Ben Johnson and Lake Rogers) that together serve more than 600,000 people in Wake, Durham, Orange, Granville, Franklin, and Person counties.
Impressive Accomplishments Already
In 2006, the UNCWI partners created a sophisticated conservation plan that targets the most important tracts of land to conserve in order to protect water quality. Since then (as of April, 2012), the land trusts have protected 63 properties that include 63 miles of stream banks on 6,170 acres. Another 12 properties with 24 miles of stream banks on 2,210 acres are in the works.
Generous financial support from local and state government agencies has been critical to this success. In particular, the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the City of Raleigh, Durham County and City, and Orange County have contributed substantial resources to protect high priority lands. UNCWI partners worked closely with Raleigh and Durham to help establish “watershed protection fees,” small monthly allocations (averaging only 40 cents a month per household in Raleigh) based on water use, to fund purchases of properties and conservation easements. These dedicated revenue sources ensure that there will be significant funding available in the future for protecting land to safeguard water quality.
In addition, the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities and the Natural Resources Conservation Service provided UNCWI with a generous grant as part of its Healthy Watersheds through Healthy Forests Initiative. The grant enables the land trusts to work with forest landowners to place conservation easements on their properties and/or implement forest stewardship plans.
There’s No Time to Wait
Water quality is declining in the Upper Neuse basin due to development and population growth. Population is projected to increase 50 percent in the basin between 2003 and 2025. This growth is expected to result in the development of an additional 50,000 acres and consume 76 percent of the remaining undeveloped land in the basin. As more land is developed and the watershed’s forest cover continues to shrink, water quality will suffer. That’s why it is critical to conservation intact natural areas along streams now.
UNCWI Land Trust Partners
The land trusts involved in the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative include the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (coordinator), Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, Eno River Association, Tar River Land Conservancy, Triangle Greenways Council, Triangle Land Conservancy, and the Trust for Public Land.