Forests and natural land provide critical ecosystem services for protecting our source waters. Using this natural infrastructure has become an innovative and imperative management strategy to improve water quantity and quality by providing a natural filtration system for pollutants, aiding in ground water retention, stabilizing shorelines, reducing peaks in flow variability, helping regulate temperature, improving levels of dissolved oxygen as well as providing critical habitat.

Although these ecological benefits and their degree of importance are widely understood in the scientific community, they have not been fully translated into the language that most often drives planning and land use decisions at the local level including their economic benefit. To bridge this gap between ecosystem services and land use management, the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, has partnered with the Catawba Wateree Initiative, Foothills Land Conservancy, Catawba Lands Conservancy and Research Triangle Institute International to create a watershed prioritization tool to identify “hotspots” – drainage areas within the watershed that are the most critical for the conservation and protection of source water in the Catawba –Wateree basin.

The Source Water Protection Tool is an interactive tool that helps to assess the impacts of changes in climate, land use and water use on the resiliency of our water supply. Our Technical Manager/GIS Analyst uses this tool along with a geospatial software to visualize both spatially and temporally different hydrological and water quality metrics. The results will inform and incentivize water resource planners, managers, land use planners, elected officials, and conservation organizations to systematically evaluate the impacts of land use changes and land conservation strategies to extend the capacity of the Catawba-Wateree River and make it more resilient in a changing future.