In June, The Nature Conservancy will launch an innovative program in the Cerrado region of Brazil that will help protect the freshwater supply of Brasilia, the country's capital.
Known as the Water Producer Program, it will compensate rural landowners who help improve water quality and quantity by restoring or preserving grasslands along streams and by implementing best management practices on cropland and cattle ranches.
The Water Producer concept was first developed by Brazil's National Water Agency (ANA). ANA has partnered with the Conservancy to implement projects throughout Brazil, beginning with the Piracicaba-Capivari-Jundiaí watershed in southeast Brazil in 2007, which was supported by the Great Rivers Partnership.
While the Conservancy has worked with ANA and other partners to launch six Water Producer programs along Brazil's Atlantic Coast, this is the first one in the Cerrado region.
Stretching across more than 500 million acres of Brazil's central plateau, the Cerrado is one of the richest tropical savanna regions in the world. It is home to an estimated 10,000 plant species; about 4,400 of them are found nowhere else on Earth. The Cerrado also feeds three of the major water basins in South America: the Amazon, Paraguay-Paraná and São Francisco rivers.
Program Restores Grasslands, "Produces" Water
The Conservancy and its partners will launch this Water Producer Program in the Pipiripau River watershed, one of the headwater streams of the Paraná River. More than 180,000 of Brasilia's 2.6 million residents depend on the Pipiripau for water.
In recent years, the Brazilian Water Supply Company (CAESB) has seen an increase in water treatment costs in the Pipiripau watershed due to soil erosion and nutrient runoff from surrounding agricultural lands. The Cerrado region is a major producer of beef cattle, corn and soybeans, and more than half of the extensive Cerrado grasslands have been converted for ranching and agriculture.
Over the next five years, 3,280 acres of grassland will be restored and another 10,665 acres will be conserved as part of the Pipiripau Water Producer Program. Soil preparation and seedling production will begin in June and planting will start in October.
Similar to forests, grasslands 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 native grasslands have been maintained or restored.
Sources of funding for the payments to landowners are still being finalized but will likely be similar to other Water Producer projects where water-dependent industries and other water users in the watershed help fund the program.
"The Nature Conservancy is excited about this initiative not only because it will help protect a portion of Brasilia's water supply, but because it is the first program in the Cerrado and recognizes the important role that grasslands play in protecting water quality and supply," comments Albano Araujo, freshwater coordinator for The Nature Conservancy's Atlantic Forest and Central Savannas Conservation Program.
"If successful, it is likely that we will be able to replicate this program in other watersheds that provide water to the citizens of Brasilia, protecting and restoring thousands of additional acres of Cerrado grasslands in the process," Araujo added.