Watershed moment for IonE’s NatCap
For the more than 200 attendees at a recent Minnesota Water Technology Summit, one thing was clear: Water is essential to life in Minnesota. “Water touches every aspect of our health, our recreation and our economic development,” said Bonnie Keeler, lead scientist of the Natural Capital Project and one of the panelists at the summit. “Water crises in California and elsewhere have added new urgency to understanding and anticipating water risks. Minnesota is a state rich in water resources, but even we are starting to see signs of stress in the form of polluted drinking water and depleted aquifers.” With this growing urgency comes increasing demand to understand the interactions between land management and water quality and to better quantify the benefits and costs of actions to protect and improve our water supply.
A strategic initiative of the Institute on the Environment, NatCap has been at the front lines of efforts to connect how upstream land management may benefit downstream users. In the Midwest, where many drinking water sources face threats from excess nutrients and sediment, NatCap is conducting research to provide knowledge and tools needed to protect water resources. It’s also joining regional partnerships to bring an ecosystem services perspective to the table. Three collaborations provide timely examples of on-the-ground water protection efforts and highlight a few of the ongoing and future research priorities of the NatCap team.
At the summit, The Nature Conservancy announced the establishment of a $10 million Minnesota Headwaters Fund, a unique project aimed at supporting targeted conservation efforts such as stream bank protection, preservation of forests and wetland restoration. NatCap assisted TNC scientists in building an evidence base for the water fund, and NatCap’s InVEST suite of ecosystem services models is being used to more efficiently and strategically plan the fund’s investments.
For the past year, NatCap has also contributed to a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, The Coca-Cola Company, TNC and DuPont Pioneer in Iowa’s Cedar River Basin, with support from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Landscape Conservation Cooperative grant. In this project, NatCap scientists are using ecosystem models and social and economic data to better target restoration to improve the delivery of services such as clean water for local communities. This collaboration complements a recent $2 million grant awarded earlier this year to the city of Cedar Rapids through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program to implement upstream conservation practices in the watershed and help protect Cedar Rapids from flooding and nutrient pollution.
In addition to these projects, NatCap recently launched new work in Minnesota looking at the long-term water quantity and quality impacts of climate change and the ecosystem service benefits of the state’s conservation easement programs. Working with Kate Brauman, lead scientist of IonE’s Global Water Initiative, and Tracy Twine, co-lead of Islands in the Sun and an associate professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, NatCap will map statewide water scarcity and quantify the economic values of water quality and quantity that will inform long-term water sustainability strategies. Additionally, NatCap plans to assess existing easements and develop a Web-based easement valuation system that will help guide future state investments in conservation.
Both projects are funded by the State of Minnesota Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resourcesand aim to help state agencies and decision makers make more informed and strategic decisions about land and water management.
These research partnerships provide a sample of watershed initiatives aimed at linking land management to water quality in the region. “We’re particularly excited about these regional projects and partnerships,” said Keeler. “NatCap has made big science investments in understanding the links between land, water and people. We’re eager to apply that knowledge to these contexts in Minnesota and Iowa that have the potential to change decisions and improve the clean water we all depend upon.”
Photo by Holly Hayes (Flickr / Creative Commons)