The importance of forest protected areas to drinking water

A collection of essays dealing with the role forests play in providing drinking water for cities around the world in hydrologic, economic and social terms.

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The World Wildlife Fund concludes that “if protected areas are to be maintained in the long term, their essential roles and broader services, beyond biodiversity conservation, need to be emphasised.”

Two key issues:

– the need to stress the arguments for protected areas away from a narrow focus on biodiversity into other values (the congress is named Benefits beyond Boundaries)
– the importance of securing enough resources to manage protected areas effectively. The links between protected areas and drinking water thus touches some of the most central natural resource management issues in the world today.


Executive summary
Rationale for project

Part 1: The importance of forest protected areas to drinking water
Introduction: what do city dwellers need?
Options for providing water
What forests can provide
Management options in watersheds
Social consequences
Economic consequences
Environmental consequences
Some preliminary conclusions

Part 2: The world’s biggest cities, drinking water and protected areas
The study
The 105 cities

Part 3: A wider perspective on water and protection
Hydrology overview
Economics overview
Social overview

Part 4: Country case studies
Melbourne, Australia; Istanbul, Turkey; Singapore; New York, United States of America; Caracas, Venezuela; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Part 5: Conclusions and policy recommendations
Conclusions and policy recommendations
References and endnotes

Running Pure

Executive summary

Well managed natural forests provide benefits to urban populations in terms of high quality drinking water:
– Well managed natural forests almost always provide higher quality water, with less sediment and fewer pollutants, than water from other catchments
– Some natural forests (particularly tropical montane cloud forests and some older forests) also increase total water flow, although in other cases this is not true and under young forests and some exotic plantations net water flow can decrease
– Impacts of forests on security of supply or mitigating flooding are less certain although forests can reduce floods at a local headwater scale
– As a result of these various benefits, natural forests are being protected to maintain high quality water supplies to cities
– Protection within watersheds also provides benefits in terms of biodiversity conservation, recreational, social and economic values
– However, care is needed to ensure that the rural populations living in watersheds are not disadvantaged in the process of protection or management for water quality

Maintaining high quality water supply is an additional argument for protection:
– Many important national parks and reserves also have value in protecting watersheds that provide drinking water to towns and cities
– Sometimes this is recognised and watershed protection was a major reason for establishing the protected area – here watershed protection has sometimes bought critical time for biodiversity, by protecting natural areas around cities that would otherwise have disappeared
– In other cases, the watershed values of protected areas have remained largely unrecognised and the downstream benefits are accidental
– Where forests or other natural vegetation have benefits for both biodiversity and water supply, arguments for protection are strengthened with a wider group of stakeholders
– In some cases, full protection may not be possible and here a range of other forest management options are also available including best practice management (for example through a forest management certification system) and restoration

The watershed benefits of forest protected areas could help to pay for protection:
– The economic value of watersheds is almost always under-estimated or unrecognised
– It is possible to collect user fees from people and companies benefiting from drinking water to help pay for the catchment protection benefits provided by protected area management – although only in certain circumstances
– Payment for water services can also be one important way of helping negotiations with people living in or using watersheds to develop land-use mosaics that are conducive to maintaining high quality drinking water supplies

Many of the world’s largest cities rely on drinking water from protected areas:
– Around a third (33 out of 105) of the world’s largest cities obtain a significant proportion of their drinking water directly from protected areas
– At least five other cities obtain water from sources that originate in distant watersheds that also include protected areas
– In addition, at least eight more obtain water from forests that are managed in a way that gives priority to their functions in providing water
– Several other cities are currently suffering problems in water supply because of problems in watersheds, or draw water from forests that are being considered for protection because of their values to water supply