April 20, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C.—The Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative, a coalition of nonprofit conservation organizations, has released its 2015-2045 Conservation Strategy, which demonstrates the value of land conservation as a  key investment to protect drinking water supplies in North Carolina’s Upper Neuse River Basin.  The Conservation Strategy identifies the most important areas to conserve to ensure water quality downstream, and sets an ambitious goal of preserving 30,000 acres over the next 30 years.  

TThe Conservation Strategy serves as an update to the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative’s original 2006 plan, through which the initiative has already protected 90 properties, 84 miles of stream banks, and 7,698 acres in the Upper Neuse River Basin. The basin is home to nine drinking water reservoirs that provide drinking water to over half a million people in Raleigh, Durham, Butner, Creedmoor, Garner, Hillsborough, Knightdale, Rolesville, Stem, Wake Forest, Wendell, and Zebulon.

The Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative is coordinated by the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, and includes Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, Eno River Association, Tar River Land Conservancy, The Conservation Fund, Triangle Greenways Council, Triangle Land Conservancy, local governments, and state agencies. Together with willing landowners, the partners are protecting critical natural areas to ensure the long-term health of drinking water in the Upper Neuse River Basin.  

The initiative’s efforts, including land acquisition, landowner outreach, monitoring, and stewardship, have been funded by the city of Raleigh Public Utilities Department through its Watershed Protection Fund. Revenue is generated from a fee of $0.15 per 1000 gallons of water used by Raleigh’s water utility customers, averaging about 60 cents a month per household and generating more than $2 million a year for water quality protection. Significant additional financial support from local governments in the basin, including Durham, Granville, Orange, and Wake Counties, and the cities of Durham and Creedmoor, and the state’s Clean Water Management Trust Fund, has been critical to the initiative’s success.

The initiative’s updated planning process produced an enhanced GIS-based Watershed Protection Model, which uses the best available science and geographic data to map the most important areas for land conservation, based on four main goals: protecting water sources, preserving upland forests and farms, protecting wetlands and floodplains, and protecting vulnerable areas with steep slopes and wet soils. The Raleigh Public Utilities Department briefed Raleigh City Council on the new conservation plan at its April 19 work session, and the land trust partners will be briefing local governments upstream in the coming months.

SCP Upper Neuse Map

“By pinpointing forests and other natural areas that provide the most bang for the buck for water quality protection, the partners in the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative can better focus the investments of the local governments and the state to conserve lands that will provide multiple benefits for people and nature,” said Will Allen, Vice President of Conservation Planning at The Conservation Fund in Chapel Hill, NC, who facilitated the planning process.

Thirty-six percent of the Triangle area is projected to be covered by impervious surfaces by 2040, and the city of Raleigh alone expects its water customer base to increase from 545,000 to about 800,000 by 2030. In the face of increasing development, protecting land around drinking water sources is one of the most effective ways to protect water quality. Forests, wetlands and open fields absorb rain and runoff, and help trap sediment and pollutants before they enter streams and lakes. Land conservation also results in added community benefits such as new parks and greenways, air purification and flood protection. 

“Conserving land along streams is a cost-effective way to protecting drinking water quality because it prevents polluted runoff from entering the water supply," said Reid Wilson, Executive Director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. “This reduces the cost of water treatment, so investing in strategic land protection is a win-win -- it safeguards drinking water quality and saves money for customers.”

The Watershed Protection Model identifies more than 17,000 parcels of land totaling more than 260,000 acres in the Upper Neuse watershed that are eligible for funding from the city of Raleigh’s Watershed Protection Program. With this model, Upper Neuse Initiative partners have set a goal of protecting 30,000 acres over the next 30 years by working with willing landowners to protect priority properties.

Land protection efforts are a key part of a comprehensive strategy for clean water and pollution reduction that highlights the need for investments in both water and wastewater treatment facilities, and natural areas. The city of Raleigh, already a national leader in protecting water quality, will use the Watershed Protection Model to help direct water quality investments to the highest priority projects.

“The city of Raleigh is proud of our nationally-recognized initiative to protect drinking water quality through conservation of natural lands along the streams that feed Falls Lake,” said Kay Crowder, Raleigh City Council member. “The new watershed protection model will ensure that we target our resources to achieve the best value for our money, preserving those lands most critical for preventing polluted runoff. The result will be clean drinking water at lower cost for decades to come.”

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than 7.5 million acres of land.

About the Conservation Trust for North Carolina
CTNC’s mission is to assist 23 local land trusts, connect people to nature, and protect land along the Blue Ridge Parkway so that all North Carolinians can enjoy safe drinking water, clean air, fresh local foods, and recreational opportunities, for generations to come. For more information about the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative, go to: http://www.ctnc.org/assist/upper-neuse-clean-water-initiative/  

About the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
The Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring Ellerbe Creek. ECWA envisions a living creek connecting human and natural communities in Durham, raising awareness of Ellerbe Creek and its watershed by working to increase understanding, consideration, and support in the broader community.

About the Eno River Association
The Eno River Association is a 501c3 non-profit conservation organization whose mission is to conserve and protect the natural, cultural and historic resources of the Eno River basin. Since 1966, the Association has worked actively to protect the lands and waters along the Eno River and its tributaries. Our efforts to date have resulted in more than 7,000 acres of protected lands. These acres are largely contained within five public parks: the Eno River State Park, the Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area, West Point on the Eno Durham City Park, Penny’s Bend Nature Preserve and the Little River Regional Park.

About the Tar River Land Conservancy
The Tar River Land Conservancy preserves the natural and cultural resources of the Tar River Basin and surrounding areas by working in partnership with private landowners, public agencies and others to protect rural landscapes and riparian corridors. Our service area includes Person, Granville, Vance, Franklin, Warren, Halifax, Nash and Edgecombe Counties. We work directly with landowners through the regional to protect drinking water, wildlife habitat, farms, forests and recreational open space. We achieve our objectives by acquiring conservation land and permanent conservation easements and collaborating with other public and private entities on projects that achieve mutually beneficial land conservation objectives.

About the Triangle Greenways Council
The mission of the Triangle Greenways Council is to promote greenways and trails in the Triangle area of North Carolina through public information services, to advocate for the creation of interconnected greenways that will serve all Triangle residents, and to preserve land for future greenway corridors. 

About the Triangle Land Conservancy
Since 1983, Triangle Land Conservancy has worked to save the places you love and the land we need to safeguard clean water, protect natural habitats, support local farms and food, and connect people with nature.

Press Release Contacts
Dagny Leonard | The Conservation Fund | dleonard@conservationfund.org | (703) 908-5823
Caitlin Burke | Conservation Trust for North Carolina | caitlin@cntc.org | (919) 341-4444