Preserving Our Waters: The Crucial Role of Land Conservation in Ensuring Clean Water
Water sustains all living beings. It nourishes our bodies, powers our industries, provides recreational opportunities, and nurtures ecosystems. As population in Northwest Arkansas continues to grow and urbanize, protecting our drinking water supply is increasingly important. The region’s population is predicted to swell from 500,000 today to one million in the next 25 years.
"Land conservation is a proactive approach that focuses on preserving natural landscapes to keep our water clean. By protecting water quality, we ensure the well-being of both nature and people."
The benefits of land conservation for water quality are far reaching
because of a range of interconnected systems in the natural landscape.
1. Natural Filtration Systems: Undisturbed lands, such as forests, wetlands, and grasslands, act as natural filters. They absorb rainwater, trap pollutants, and gradually release clean water into groundwater systems, rivers, and lakes. By conserving these vital habitats, we reduce the amount of sediments, nutrients, and contaminants entering our water bodies, thus mitigating the risk of water pollution. This means it costs less to treat drinking water, saving everyone money. Treating drinking water from an unprotected watershed can cost ten times more than treating water from a protected watershed.
2. Erosion Prevention: Healthy soil, held in place by intact vegetation, is a cornerstone of water quality. One of the greatest risk to clean water is sediment (small particles of rock and soil). These particles come from eroding streambanks, construction sites, agricultural fields, and unpaved roads. When lands are conserved and managed sustainably, they prevent sediment-laden runoff from entering waterways. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, sediment pollution causes $16 billion in environmental damages annually. Excessive sediment disrupts aquatic ecosystems and degrades water quality by reducing clarity and oxygen levels.
3. Nutrient Management: Agriculture, while vital for the local economy, can inadvertently contribute to water pollution through excess nutrient runoff. Land conservation strategies, such as forested riparian buffer zones and cover cropping, can help regulate nutrient flow into water bodies. These measures not only protect water quality but also promote soil health and sustainable farming practices. Riparian buffers can also provide important movement corridors for wildlife moving throughout the region.
4. Climate Resilience: Extreme weather events, like floods and droughts, can lead to increased water pollution. At the same time, sprawl and urbanization exacerbate heavy rainfall events. When surfaces are paved over, pollutants accumulate on hard surfaces and rainwater cannot infiltrate into the soil. Conserved lands, such as wetlands and floodplains, act as buffers against these impacts by absorbing excess water, regulating flow, and slowing down rainfall runoff. A study by the City of Fayetteville estimated that increasing tree canopy from 27 percent to 40 percent would reduce stormwater runoff by 31 percent. In a 2012 study that valued the stormwater
management benefits of urban forests in Fayetteville, AR, the City valued the
tree canopy at an estimated $64 million based on avoided stormwater facility
Beyond ecological and economic advantages, land conservation offers numerous benefits to communities. Access to clean and abundant water sources is fundamental for public health, agriculture, and recreation. Preserving our communities’ green spaces today before it’s too late is an invaluable gift to future generations.