The Great Rivers Partnership was launched with a generous gift from Caterpillar Inc., through its foundation. It is part of many efforts at The Nature Conservancy to advance freshwater conservation around the world. Visit nature.org/freshwater for more information.
By Cate Harrington
In May, an innovative program designed to help protect the freshwater supply for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest city, was launched in the municipality of Rio Claro in the Guandú River watershed. Known as the Water and Forest Producers program, it will compensate rural landowners for forest restoration and land management efforts that protect freshwater resources.
The rivers of the Guandú watershed provide about 80 percent of the fresh water and generate 25 percent of the electricity used by residents of the Rio de Janeiro metropolitan area, benefiting almost eight million people.
The Water and Forest Producers program, which is modeled after water producer programs operating in other parts of Brazil and South America, pays rural landowners for the environmental services they provide — in this case, the protection and production of water resources. The Water Producer concept was first developed by Brazil’s National Water Agency (ANA), which has been partnering with the Conservancy in the implementation of the projects throughout Brazil.
Forests hold water and help minimize erosion, keeping sediment and nutrients on the land and out of the rivers. Landowners are compensated for “producing water” on those portions of their land where trees have been planted or forests fenced off from cattle and restored.
Part of the funding for the payments comes from fees levied by the local watershed committee on water-dependent industries and other water users in the Guandú River watershed.
During the May launch event, the first 18 rural landowners enrolled in the program received their initial payments. Payment amounts vary depending on the location of the land, the quality of existing forests and the amount of revenue the landowners would have received if they used their land for economic activities such as cattle ranching or dairy production.
In addition to providing clean water for millions of people, the Water and Forest Producers program will help restore Brazil’s Atlantic Forest — a forest a fraction of the size of the Amazon but with comparable biodiversity.
The program operates in the Tinguá-Bocaína Biodiversity Corridor, one of the most important areas for biodiversity conservation in the Atlantic Forest. The corridor connects 195,000 hectares (almost 482,000 acres) of forest between the Tinguá Biological Reserve and Serra da Bocaína State Park. The rivers that form the Guandú watershed flow through this corridor, and it provides the large expanses of tropical forest that large mammals like the jaguar need to maintain their health and viability.
“The Nature Conservancy is excited about this initiative not only because it will help protect freshwater resources in Rio de Janeiro, but because it recognizes the important services that forests and other ecosystems provide to humanity,” comments Fernando Veiga, the Conservancy’s coordinator for environmental services. “It is a model that can and has been replicated in other watersheds in Brazil and other parts of the world.”
The Water and Forest Producers program in the Guandú watershed is an initiative of The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Instituto Terra de Preservação Ambiental, Rio de Janeiro State Secretary of the Environment, Rio de Janeiro State Institute of the Environment, the committee of the Guandú River Watershed and the municipal government of Rio Claro.September 15, 2011