Every person on earth lives in a watershed. Watersheds have linked nature and the services it provides with human communities since the beginning of time. They transcend man-made boundaries and cross state and national borders.
As the world’s population grows and develops, demand for water has increased rapidly, putting increased pressure on watersheds. The UN estimates that in the year 2017, close to 70 percent of the global population will have problems accessing fresh water.
Today, it is widely recognized that an integrated approach to freshwater management offers the best means of reconciling competing demands. Watersheds or river basins offer the obvious boundaries in which to develop integrated plans – plans that must transcend political boundaries in many cases.
The Conservancy works with a broad range of partners, including governments, communities, development banks and the private sector, to help improve the management and protection of watersheds and secure the water resources on which we all depend.
The Conservancy uses its extensive experience from demonstration projects to define “best practices” that can be adopted globally in water and watershed management, bringing the best science and policy solutions to countries and governments around the world.
Specifically, the Conservancy is working to:
These efforts require the integration of watershed protection in the efforts of water and energy planning agencies. In addition, the Conservancy’s policy staff are supporting countries around the world in developing strong water management policies, laws, and regulations as well as strengthening institutions responsible for watershed management.
Certification programs can provide a powerful tool for improving practices for the benefit of nature. Building from programs created for seafood and forest products that have resulted in positive change in these industries, the Conservancy is catalyzing a water-related sustainability certification program to encourage and recognize progressive water suppliers and users that are conducting their operations in a way that is environmentally sustainable and socially responsible. Not a single sustainability certification program currently exists in the water sector.
Formed in 2008, the Alliance for Water Stewardship (AWS) is working with engaged stakeholders to develop a voluntary water stewardship program and a permanent organization to house this initiative. The program, based on a rigorous yet realistic International Water Standard, will define actions that businesses and water users worldwide can and should take to improve the social, environmental and financial sustainability of water use. The goal is to create a program that recognizes and rewards water users and managers who take significant steps to minimize their water use and impacts.
Most of the world’s population lives downstream of forested watersheds and of the 100 largest cities, more than 40 percent rely on runoff from protected areas. It is critical that management of protected areas include freshwater conservation practices, especially as urban populations grow and the demand for water increases, because:
The Nature Conservancy is working on the conservation of protected areas that provide cities and municipalities with clean water from watersheds.
Ecuador's capital city of Quito gets 100 percent of its potable water from Andean creeks and rivers. Around 1.5 million people, local industries and irrigation fields use more than 17 billion liters (4.5 billion gallons) per month of water taken directly from the mountains. That’s enough to fill almost 15,000 Olympic-size swimming pools each month. All of this water comes from a protected area: the Condor Bioreserve.
In 2000, the Conservancy teamed up with the U.S. Agency for International Development and local Ecuadorian partners to create a Quito-based water fund. This fund, also known as FONAG by its Spanish acronym, is capitalized at over $6 million with investments going toward watershed programs and projects.
The fund invests not just in conservation activities but also in projects that encourage local people to engage in sustainable income-earning activities in surrounding areas.
The fund's main goal is to achieve sufficient water quantity and quality to meet the needs of the people of Quito, as well as to provide long-term protection of water sources in the Condor Bioreserve. Based on the success of FONAG, the Conservancy is working with partners to develop and implement similar trust funds to protect drinking water for people in other parts of South America, including Colombia and Venezuela. For example, the Conservancy just replicated this approach in Colombia, resulting in the newly established Bogota Water Fund (2008). Similar concepts are also being applied through the Conservancy’s water producer program in Brazil.March 07, 2013