A clean water supply is a crucial part of any healthy community, but source water protection also contributes to human well-being in other ways. Some source water protection activities can reduce the transmission of water-borne diseases. They can also protect natural habitat for bees and other pollinating insects, which are crucial for the production of fruit and vegetable crops that deliver essential micronutrients to millions of people around the world.
More than 28 million farming households around the world could see potential improvements in crop production and increased longevity of their farms if source water protection activities were implemented throughout watersheds.
In Colombia’s Cauca Valley, small landowners are learning to use agroforestry and silvopasture practices, which involve growing crops and grazing livestock in areas interspersed with trees and other vegetation.
Source water protection has important benefits for nature, too. More than three-fourths of urban source watersheds are within regions of high species diversity combined with high concentrations of species unique to those regions. But deforestation and other changes in land use are major threats to these ecosystems. In fact, according to WWF, tracked animal species populations in freshwater systems have declined by a staggering 81 percent over the last 40 years. Source water protection can play an important role in protecting habitat for both terrestrial and aquatic plant and animal species.
The same reforestation projects and changes in farming practices that are improving water quality and storing carbon in Brazil’s Guandu watershed, for example, are also contributing to the conservation of native plant and animal species populations. Both rare and representative species have been found in surveys of areas where habitats are being restored and protected.
Successful source water protection strategies require the cooperation of parties both upstream and downstream, including landowners, governments, corporations, NGOs and many others with seemingly disparate interests. But these strategies are effective precisely because they can generate benefits for all these stakeholders.
Achieving these win-win situations is crucial for the next generation, says Debora Dos Santos Leite, principal at the Rio das Pedras Municipal School in Brazil. “Nature is everything to people. It is life. It is the future of the generation that we have here, the very little ones. Everyone is grateful for the work we are doing because, in addition to bringing benefits to the families and to the community, the greatest benefit is to the children.”
Source water protection shows that even economic development and nature preservation can be achieved together. The Rio Grande Water Fund in New Mexico, which has 53 signatory organizations, has created 70 new jobs in its first year of operation and project managers estimate that 300 to 600 seasonal forest worker jobs will be created annually in the future.