Research & Policy

Water Quality Protection Programs: Insights from Six Eastern United States Cases (2019)

Water quality protection programs seek to enhance forested land cover to ensure abundant supplies of clean water for their communities. Whether run by public agencies that allocate resources for land acquisition and stream restoration or by “water funds” that use innovative financial strategies to advance water quality conservation independent of government or philanthropic dollars, they are defining a role for forestland in achieving clean water goals in the United States.

However, even as these programs grow in number and scale, best practices for forestland protection to benefit water quality remain ill-defined. The conventional wisdom that healthy intact forested watersheds yield high-quality drinking water is sound. But, standards for what constitutes a healthy, intact watershed are far from universal, the science linking land use to discrete water quality parameters can be ambiguous, and the relative benefits of investing in restoration versus protection are not obvious to investors seeking tangible outcomes. Further, practitioners struggle to balance scientific rigor with the practical concerns of land conservation.

In 2018, OSI reviewed six water quality protection programs in the eastern United States to compare their use of science to both develop strategies to improve water quality and evaluate their impact.




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