Even in the damp northeastern United States, water is a precious resource. Whether it's to protect human health, sustain wildlife populations, or to support recreational opportunities, more than two thirds of the initiatives in an inventory of landscape conservation initiatives have protecting water resources as a priority.
To help understand how landscape initiatives are addressing water issues in the 13 state Northeast Megaregion, Regional Plan Association and America 2050 have compiled federal, state, and private information about water quality for inclusion in our Northeast Landscape Initiatives Atlas.
This week we are posting three water quality resource maps (pictured above). Map 1 shows high quality watersheds for drinking water. Map 2 shows other important areas for public water supply. Map 3 identifies important water resources for supporting wildlife.Click to see metadata
This information is being used by RPA / America 2050 to understand how landscape conservation initiatives can improve water quality and aquatic habitat.
Here are three examples of landscape initiatives that are focused on conserving water resources, drawn from our inventory of 165 landscape initiatives:
Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC)
The vast majority of New York City's drinking water comes from 19 upstate reservoirs that are located throughout the Catskills region. In the early 1990s, an EPA order to build a very costly filtration plant eventually led to a landmark agreement between the city and the residents living in its watershed. Today, the partnership between upstate and downstate interests is considered a successful model for how a landscape-scale approach can keep drinking water clean for downstream users. At the heart of the resolution between the city and its Catskills partners is the Watershed Agricultural Council (WAC).
When WAC was created in 1993, it adopted best management practices (BMPs) for agriculture as a way to protect water quality more cheaply than end-of-the-pipe solutions like building filtration plants. The WAC has led efforts to create Whole Farm Plans, a planning process for sustainable farming developed by the USDA, for 93% of the region's farms. The result is WAC funded environmental demonstration projects designed to manage animal waste and runoff from farms. The Council also acquires conservation easements on strategically important farmland in order to preserve the region's agrarian character and economy. WAC has also developed a similar program of best management practices to train private foresters about how to sustainably harvest their timber. All of its efforts are fully funded by New York City's Department of Environmental Protection as a condition of its filtration avoidance waiver with EPA.
Chesapeake Bay Program
The Chesapeake Bay is known for its superlatives: it is the largest estuary in the U.S. and some people say that it produces the best seafood in the country, but the bay was also the first identified marine dead zone and it was the first estuary targeted by Congress for restoration and protection following growing awareness of its severely polluted condition. By the early 1970s, the bay's health had deteriorated from excess nutrient pollution. Runoff from farms located on the Bay's eastern shore and runoff from development and impervious surfaces on the western shore was killing wildlife living near its banks and aquatic life living in its waters.
Restoration of the Chesapeake is guided by a simple, one-page document--the 1983 Chesapeake Bay Agreement. The agreement requires that the federal government (through the EPA) and the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Washington, D.C coordinate their efforts to protect the bay. In 2000, the agreement was expanded to include New York and Delaware and it set new benchmarks for improving water quality. The agreement focuses on introducing more shellfish to filter water in the bay, limiting invasive species, restoring aquatic habitat, controlling runoff, improving the health of tributary watersheds, and increasing the footprint of existing wetland and forest areas, as well as a host of other related conservation efforts aimed at curbing development and improving agricultural practices.
The Lamprey Partnership Wild Scenic River
The Lamprey River, a tributary of the Great Bay Estuary in New Hampshire, is managed through the Wild Scenic Rivers program, a federally-sponsored water conservation partnership. Even in this increasingly developed portion of the state, the river obeys a natural cycle of flood and drought that has been occurring for centuries. The system makes for a rich floodplain that supports a diversity of fish and bird species, agriculture, and a number of recreational opportunities. The Wild Scenic Rivers program, which was established by Congress in 1968, aims "to preserve certain rivers with outstanding natural, cultural, and recreational values in a free-flowing condition for the enjoyment of present and future generations".
The Lamprey River is an example of a newer direction for Wild Scenic Rivers. The River's management is a shared responsibility between adjacent communities, state agencies, and the National Park Service. These partnerships empower local stakeholders to protect their environment. Like all Wild Scenic Rivers, the emphasis is on providing technical assistance and funding for sustainable management of the river and the quarter mile of upland area on both of its banks. For example, the designation prohibits federal funding for damming and other projects that could compromise water quality. And in the Portsmouth area, where development is occurring at a rapid pace, river management is an important tool for pursuing the dual goals of conservation and sustainable development
In the Northeast Megaregion, complex urban development patterns and high demand for land and resources pose particular challenges for conservation. RPA / America 2050 is working across political jurisdictions to produce a comprehensive inventory of landscape conservation initiatives that protect watersheds, wildlife habitat, and other natural processes at the appropriate geographic scale. The project was launched in November, 2010 with the support from The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the USDA Forest Service Northeastern Area.
Visit the website to learn more: Northeast Landscape Conservation Atlas