Oct 15, 2012

New Study Reveals Drinking Water Sources & Vulnerabilities for 493 Cities

Study shows water sources of most populated U.S. cities, how the sources are used and their level of protection

The Nature Conservancy Drinking Water Trends Forescast

The Nature Conservancy released the findings of a study that identifies drinking water sources for 493 cities across the globe. The study, the first of its kind, includes detailed maps and a website showing the water sources of the 27 most-populated U.S. cities, revealing how these sources are being used as well as their levels of protection. This study also addresses a critical gap identified in a 2011 Nature Conservancy poll: 77% of Americans not using well water do not know where their water comes from.

The study identifies the rivers and lakes that serve as water sources for 68 international and 398 U.S. cities, and in addition provides detailed information on the 27 most-populated U.S. cities’ watersheds through a website called “Where Does Your Water Come From?” A watershed is an area of land that contributes water to a given location such as a reservoir or a stream.

Previous information on drinking water sources was often embedded in technical documents and managed by different entities, making it difficult for consumers to find clear and easily accessible information on where their water comes from. The new website provides a comprehensive database that maps the full extent and condition of watersheds for multiple cities across the U.S.

The 27 U.S. maps provide data on how land in each watershed is being used, and includes color coding for four key land use categories: agriculture, urban/suburban development, private and undeveloped land and nature areas that are under some level of official protection from development.

As the study authors note, protecting watersheds means protecting the forests and grasslands that surround our nation’s rivers and lakes, and is an essential strategy for ensuring the long-term health of urban water supplies.

“Trees and plants help keep sediment and pollution from flowing into our waters, and help to slow down rainwater, allowing more water to seep into underground water supplies,”  said Kirk Klausmeyer, a Nature Conservancy scientist and co-author of the study. “Protecting these resources is especially important as drought plagues over 60% of the U.S., and our water sources become more vulnerable than ever.”

“Additional protection for our watersheds is needed because today’s clean water regulations don’t sufficiently limit the pollutants entering our waterways from farmlands and urban areas,” said Katherine Fitzgerald, a consultant hired by the Nature Conservancy and co-author of the report. “Fortunately, there are tangible solutions to solving this problem, such as working with farmers to prevent chemicals from running off into local waterways.”

To access the study’s data click here.