The Paraná River system provides drinking water to South America’s largest city — Sao Paulo.
But deforestation has left standing only 7 percent of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil — the source of the Paraná River — which has led to murky waters, polluted with sediment that flows unfiltered into the river system.
The Conservancy's Plant a Billion Trees campaign is helping restore the Atlantic Forest and improve water quality in important watersheds.
One of the strategies of the Plant a Billion Trees campaign is to carry out reforestation activities in key areas for water protection through compensating landowners who are helping keep water abundant and clean for millions of people living downstream through the Water Producer Program.
Through this program, farmers and ranchers are paid for “producing water” on those portions of their land where trees have been planted and forests fenced off from cattle for assisted natural regeneration.
Healthy forests act like giant sponges soaking up rain and gradually releasing it into streams. They also protect watercourses and maintain water quality by reducing sediment and filtering pollutants. Forest loss contributes to erosion, decline in water quality, and changes in seasonal water flow. Today, water shortages affect 40% of the world’s population.
Landowners participating in the Water Producer program earn about $31 per acre per year for the water their forests are producing and filtering.
“To be part of the Water Producer Program, landowners in these priority areas have to agree to reforest key sections of their land that are critical to river health to receive any funding,” says Claudia Picone, information resource coordinator for the Conservancy’s Atlantic Forest program.
The Water Producer concept was first created by Brazil’s National Water Agency (ANA), and the first project was implemented in partnership with the Conservancy in micro-watersheds that feeds with water the major Cantareira System, responsible for supplying water to half of the population of the São Paulo’s metropolitan area — roughly 9 million people.
An important source of funding for the program comes from water-user fees collected by watershed committees from major companies and water-dependent industries. Each partner, including the Conservancy also supports the program financially and technically.
In addition to providing clean water for millions of people, the trees being planted and restored by the Water Producer Program help restore Brazil’s Atlantic Forest — a forest a fraction the size of the Amazon but with comparable biodiversity. In fact, the Atlantic Forest harbors about 2,200 species of birds, mammals and other wildlife, and 60 percent of all of Brazil’s threatened animal species call this forest home.
Guided by science planning, the Plant a Billion trees campaign aligns forest restoration with water protection in the most important watersheds in the Atlantic Forest.
In November 2008, the Water Producer program was replicated in the Guandú watershed, a vital source of drinking water for more than 7 million people in the city of Rio de Janeiro.