State of Watershed Payments

“Water, like its flow through the physical landscape, touches almost every sector of society and aspect of human life.” – State of Watershed Payments 2012

Last week the Landscapes Blog highlighted some work at the World Resources Institute on promoting ‘green infrastructure‘ to protect watershed health (plus, see this article from WRI Insights for a specific example from India). The discussion of watersheds continues with the detailed report from Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace, titled Charting New Waters: State of Watershed Payments 2012launching last Thursday. It is worthwhile to contrast the two approaches to watershed management interventions. Whereas the former explored how programs can help organize community-based interventions to preserve or enhance the natural features within a landscape that provide ecosystem services like clean water, the new publication documents direct incentives  for individuals to adopt watershed-management practices that complement, protect, or strengthen this natural infrastructure.

The models surveyed in Charting New Waters ranged from nutrient trading in the United States to water funds in Latin America, but agriculture and particularly producers featured prominently in the inventory. Implementing nutrient management, soil and water conservation, and habitat restoration on agricultural land are considered important strategies for reducing negative impacts on downstream water quality and quantity. As the report notes, payments to land managers for watershed services are often coupled with technical assistance and have explicit food security and livelihood goals.

At the launch event, a representative of the Peruvian Ministry of Environment noted the intensely cross-sectoral nature of watershed management, and consequently any incentive mechanisms used to maintain its health and function. For example in Peru, nine ministries, including agriculture, environment, and health and sanitation, are collaborating to move ahead with environmental markets. This reflects the nature of water flows within a landscape, accounting for the additional values, beyond available clean water, that are created when policies and programs support watershed health. As Genevieve Bennett, lead author of the report at Ecosystem Marketplace, asserts, “the benefits from these watershed programs extend far beyond water: they support biodiversity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and provide income for the rural poor.”

The potential for watershed payments to support the range of services a landscape provides, and to do so in a collaborative and multi-stakeholder fashion, is certainly clear from this report. In fact, the report says it expects this collaboration with community-based resource management programs, as well as other “non-watershed” environmental services incentive programs, to drive innovation and impact in the future. It is crucial, therefore, that the lessons from inventory and analysis like that in Charting New Waters shape more integrated and holistic watershed management.

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