Q+A: Putting nature based solutions to work to protect water sources

Landscape of Mount Halimun Salak National Park, West Java Many different land types exist in this landscape including crops, forests, villages, pasture, fisheries and private water company plants. CIFOR/Aulia Erlangga
Monica Evans
20 March 2018

BONN, Germany (Landscape News) – On the occasion of World Water Day, Landscapes News caught up with Daniel Shemie, director of Strategy, Water Funds at The Nature Conservancy (TNC), where he manages the overarching strategies of accelerating the use and financing of natural infrastructure in urban water supply.

Q: How can governments, cities and communities around the world run source water protection programs for themselves?

A: We just launched the Water Funds Toolbox, as an effort to really distill the intellectual property and experiences of TNC staff and partners over the last 20 years in setting up source water protection programs. Too often we’re limited by our own capacity to deliver support to the programs and cities that are interested in this approach, but now the toolbox allows us to start training others to adapt the approach to their own circumstances. Our best estimate is that 2,000 cities around the world would offset the cost of watershed conservation through avoided treatment costs and other co-benefits like carbon mitigation and increases in agricultural productivity. So, there’s an economic case for doing this kind of work too.

Q: TNC has done a lot of work focusing on nature-based solutions (NBS) for watershed management. Why?

A: TNC recognizes that a big part of water management is in fact land management, and so when you think about sustainable water security and healthy freshwater systems, you really have to look to what the catchment or watershed around those lakes, rivers and aquifers actually looks like. So, we’re asking the question: how should we best invest in the natural terrestrial ecosystems that lead to good hydrological outcomes? And we’ve gotten very good at targeting that area and measuring its impact in a water body.

On a personal note, I grew up in Canada, and when I’m in the forested countryside outside of Montreal and I go canoeing, I drink directly from the lake. So the evidence is already there about healthy watersheds –  it’s all around us; sometimes it’s just harder to see.

Q: You’re encouraging people to personally connect with the source of the water they use in their daily lives. What’s the water like where you live, and where does it come from? 

A: I live in New York City, and it’s the “champagne of water” amongst city water supplies. Roughly 10 percent of our rates on our water bill as New Yorkers goes to protecting our water catchments. So it’s a really good example of how NBS and source water protection can be integrated into delivering water services to city dwellers. In many ways New York is the model for our water funds work. I’m proud to be from there. Many New Yorkers like to talk about the good water for the bagels, and if you go to a restaurant everyone gets New York tap water, which might not be the case elsewhere. So there’s definitely an awareness in New York that we have good water; I’m not sure if there’s the same awareness of why we have good water. And the catchment is beautiful. It’s a really charismatic ecosystem. I like to go there, not just because it’s my water source, but also because I like going hiking on weekends.

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