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Water for Tomorrow

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George Schuler, Director of Conservation Science and Practice

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Each day, more than 15 billion gallons of water are withdrawn from New York’s lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater. This water is a fundamental resource for life—both human and wild. That is why The Nature Conservancy has launched Water for Tomorrow, a program to reform the way fresh water is managed in New York State and help protect our water for New Yorkers in the future.

How is fresh water managed right now?

Currently, New York State provides permits for businesses and people to withdraw water from our watershed. The state analyzes the future implications of each individual permit, but there is no model in place that accounts for the water use from X number of permits each year, 10 years from now, 100 years from now, and so on. We need to know what the impacts of giving out all of these permits are.

What is The Nature Conservancy doing to help?
  • We worked to develop and help pass new water resource legislation in New York State that ensures a framework for making decisions about water withdrawal and its impact on nature. The Water Resource Management Act, passed by Governor Cuomo in August 2011, will protect water bodies and wildlife habitats through the creation of science-based standards for water management and a new permitting system for withdrawals from streams, lakes and ponds. Under this legislation, key bodies of water in New York will be protected, including the Delaware River and Catskills that supply water to 9 million people and the Great Lakes, which holds one-fifth of the world’s fresh water.
  • We are working to develop and have adopted environmental flow standards for important regions and river basins, which will provide science-based limits for determining how much water is left for nature.
  • We are building a tool, based on science and research, to evaluate the impacts of water use in New York State. The Water for Tomorrow tool will provide scientifically based, spatially explicit information to evaluate ecological impacts and human tradeoffs of new water withdrawals for the 21,000 miles of streams and lakes in the state. For example, we can answer: "If we had 1,000 wells withdrawing X gallons per day then cumulatively what are the impacts to both nature’s benefits as well as other human uses?" Having these answers will allow for more informed decision making about the future of water resources—which will be critical when looking at new uses like hydrofracking and the impacts of climate change.
What does all this mean for New Yorkers?

State regulators need these tools, but we also want to make this an open-source tool for New York community members so they can be knowledgeable about our water. Water for Tomorrow will arm communities to play an active role in the conservation of their local resources.

"With threats like natural gas development and climate change, the pressure on New York’s water resources will continue to grow," says Conservancy freshwater scientist George Schuler. "With your help, we can re-imagine the way New York manages its water resources."

Water for Tomorrow represents the first time that modern freshwater science, statistical and modeling tools and innovative freshwater policy and regulation are being brought together in a collaborative manner.

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