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Nature's Water Purifier


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Watch a video and explore the connection between healthy forests and our drinking water.

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Next time you walk through a forest, imagine that the trees are affixed to the end of your kitchen faucet like a large green purifier, cleaning the water before it splashes, crystal-clear and cool, into your drinking glass.

It’s hard to think of it that way; a natural forest is a messy thing, a chaotic jumble of plants and animals blanketed by leaf litter or pine needles. But the civil engineers who are responsible for safe drinking water have known for years that source water flowing from forested watersheds is easier and cheaper to treat than the water that runs off city streets or agricultural fields.

That’s because forest root systems absorb nutrients that can spoil water quality, and bind soil together to prevent erosion from polluting streams. Mature trees along a river provide shade to moderate water temperature. Protecting forested floodplains reduces flooding, which in turn decreases sediment and polluted runoff.

So, if you want a drink of clear, cool water, look downstream from a healthy forest.

Threatened Forests, Threatened Water

But those healthy forests are threatened throughout New York by unsustainable forestry and agricultural practices and by urban development. And as forests are destroyed, water quality suffers. That’s one important reason why The Nature Conservancy is protecting forests along source water streams throughout New York, from the Hudson River Valley to Adirondacks and the Great Lakes region.

Quenching the Big Apple 

Water treatment experts in New York City know the connection between the forests we preserve and the water we drink. The forested watersheds of upstate New York supply more than a billion gallons of naturally filtered water per day to New York City’s 9 million consumers.

Forests are the primary land cover in the watershed which contains 19 reservoirs and three controlled lakes and covers approximately 2,000 square miles of land in the Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains. While providing a dependable, clean water supply, these forests also provide additional environmental values including wildlife habitat, recreation, scenic beauty, and timber products. These critical watersheds are truly a working landscape that has supported a forest-based economy for local communities for decades.

The Conservancy works with a variety of partners to keep the Catskills forested and New York City’s water clean, including the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Open Space Institute and private landowners. By purchasing land, facilitating transfer to the state or city, placing easements or developing innovative and creative land protection solutions, the Conservancy hopes to keep New York’s rivers, reservoirs and streams clean and clear, and our human and natural communities healthy and hydrated.

After all, conserve a floodplain forest and you’ve not only protected drinking water for communities downstream, but you’ve also preserved habitat for birds, fish, and other animals that rely on clean streams and healthy forests.

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