Private Investment in Watershed Protection Advances Triangle Conservation Efforts

Novel partnerships and long-term collaboration enable the region to address watershed health

North Carolina’s Triangle region (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill-Cary-Garner) is one of the fastest-growing areas in the country. Rapid development threatens the forests, wetlands and grasslands that naturally protect drinking water supplies for 600,000 people in Raleigh, Garner, Wake Forest, Rolesville, Knightdale, Wendell and Zebulon areas. Natural infrastructure, like forests and wetlands, can address these challenges by providing basic services from water flow regulation and flood control to water purification and water temperature regulation. But with the rising cost to acquire land in and around the Triangle, protecting these places has become increasingly costly for nonprofits and public agencies.

In recent years, public agencies Raleigh Water, Wake County, City of Durham and Town of Cary have worked alongside local land trusts including Conservation Trust for North Carolina, The Conservation Fund, and Triangle Land Conservancy to acquire and manage land in the Falls and Jordan Lake watersheds. Now, the Caterpillar Foundation is among corporate foundations and private investors stepping up to fill a critical funding need.

The Foundation will invest $250,000 in natural infrastructure and land conservation as part of a new partnership to safeguard important local natural lands.

“Local communities in the Triangle Region are increasingly investing in natural infrastructure, although the COVID-19 pandemic has strained public budgets and limited cities and their utilities resources and capacity to protect vast watersheds at a critical time,” said Edward Buchan, City of Raleigh.

This initiative fits into a growing movement to integrate natural infrastructure with traditional concrete-and-steel infrastructure to improve delivery of core services, like drinking water and flood protection, while increasing resilience. World Resources Institute, a global research organization, has advised this alliance on strategies to combine “green” and “gray” infrastructure by leveraging new partnerships and funding opportunities. The Caterpillar Foundation is one of the first corporate foundations to develop a dedicated program to support this new approach.

“Novel partnerships and long-term collaboration are critical to addressing watershed health across the region,” said CTNC Executive Director Chris Canfield. “Everyone has a role to play. Public water users provide the base funding through the utilities, land trusts collaborate on protection plans and secure the land, and private partners like the Caterpillar Foundation help get it all over the finish line.”

The Caterpillar Foundation hopes to both accelerate the program with this new financing and encourage volunteer engagement of their locally-based employees.

“This partnership provides us the opportunity to not only advance an exciting new model for watershed protection, but does so in a community in which many Caterpillar families call home,” said Caterpillar Foundation President Asha Varghese. “We hope the success of initiatives like this can build momentum for new environmental innovation and investment. We believe multi-sectoral collaboration is key to achieving sustainable infrastructure solutions, and ultimately, building resilient communities.”

“There are thousands of community water systems that could benefit from this model to protect and manage natural infrastructure assets,” said Todd Gartner, Director of WRI’s Cities4Forests and Natural Infrastructure Initiatives. “Leading initiatives like this set a new high-water mark for city-led innovation that harnesses nature’s potential to supply clean drinking water, creates recreational opportunities, and boosts resilience.”

The Caterpillar Foundation investment will supplement public and private funds to make possible the acquisition of land in the Upper Neuse watershed. It will protect river and stream frontage that are highly vulnerable to development. In addition to ecosystem services, these natural lands provide important outdoor opportunities for communities to connect with nature. Creating new outdoor recreational opportunities can both stimulate the local economy and boost public health.

In Raleigh, the average water customer pays an additional $0.57 per month, which contributes funds toward the protection of thousands of acres of crucial natural lands through the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative, a program of Raleigh Water. For more information on collaborative watershed protection and restoration efforts spearheaded by public and private partnerships in the Triangle, visit upstreammatters.org.

Are You Ready to Go Upstream?

Learn all about a new initiative to keep water sources around the Triangle safe and useable!

It’s because of clean water that small businesses can thrive, local farms are nourished and, above all, we all have clean water to use, drink and play in. So, how can we ensure it remains clean? To answer that, we have to look upstream.

Whether you need water to wash your dog or to have a nice refreshing drink, the one thing we all know is that our water needs to be clean. Clean water is a vital part of our everyday lives and through Upstream Matters, we can bring greater awareness to Raleigh’s water sources so we can keep it safe and clean for our communities. One of these water sources comes from the Upper Neuse River Basin, and making sure it’s well protected keeps our water clean for eating, drinking and playing.

Thankfully, there are programs and partnerships like the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative that work with local and state governmental agencies and landowners to keep our water clean and healthy.

Thanks to City of Raleigh water ratepayers, an average of about 57 cents of their water utility bill goes toward funding those programs that ensure our water remains clean.

Regardless of what your use for water is, you can be assured there are organizations actively working together to keep the upstream clean – and together we can continue to make it possible for them.

To learn more about why Upstream Matters, visit upstreammatters.org.

Upstream Matters is a collaborative campaign made possible by the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative partners including Conservation Trust for North Carolina, Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, Eno River Association, The Conservation Fund, and Triangle Land Conservancy. 

Bikes, Water & Conservation

A group of young bikers engage in community, conversation and reflection along the Neuse River

If you can say you’ve biked 700 miles in 14 days, you’re in a pretty elite group. Last summer, 14 young adults accomplished that extraordinary feat as part of Triangle BikeWorks’  Spoke’n Revolutions “Bikes, Water & Soul” tour. Following the path of the Neuse River from its headwaters in Durham to the Atlantic coast, the teens explored some of our state’s robust natural resources ? as well as its complex cultural heritage for people of color.

A video celebrating the “Bikes, Water & Soul” tour and all the young riders who took part in the journey

Triangle Bikeworks, a group that encourages youth of color to build community and courage through cycling programs, ?collaborated with Conservation Trust for North Carolina and Triangle Land Conservancy to take teens on the trip of a lifetime. Along the way, riders visited historical sites and spaces preserved by North Carolina land trusts. They also reflected on the connection between land, water and community resilience. 

A Triangle Bikeworks rider sports an “I am Revolutionary” tee shirt to commemorate Spoken Revolutions and the bike tour.

The CTNC team was proud to work with the young riders and help empower them to protect the land and water in their local communities. We understand that, in order to serve all communities through land conservation, we must invest in the power of people. ??

Throughout the ride, the riders visited cultural and natural heritage sites along the Neuse River. They reflected on the complex relationships between land, water and people in the American south. 

Triangle Bikeworks riders learned about natural heritage along their journey.

Itza, a tour coordinator with Triangle Bikeworks, calls these types of trips “bike therapy.” ?☀️

“There’s a lot of reflecting,” she says, “And sometimes you’re processing things you didn’t even know you had to process.”

Cindy, a student who participated in the bike tour, says it was an experience in independence. 

“A lot of my life has been doing what other people expect of me, like taking AP classes or trying out some clubs that I’m not really interested in,” she said during the tour. “This is something I really want for myself.”

Coach Lisa, a volunteer with Triangle Bikeworks, put it best:

“You guys don’t even realize how amazing you are,” she told the team of students. “Nobody’s going to push you, nobody’s going to pull you. Every hill, every valley, you’re going to be by yourself.” 

The Spoke’n Revolutions tour is only the start. We’d love to keep you updated on future CTNC partnerships and collaborations through our emails. So what are you waiting for? Get your hands dirty!??‍♂️?

Upper Neuse Initiative Boasts Impressive Accomplishments

In 2006, the UNCWI partners, subject-matter experts, and local stakeholders developed a sophisticated conservation plan that identifies the most important tracts of land to conserve to protect water quality. Since then (as of January 2019), the land trusts and other partners have protected 115 properties that include 113 miles of stream banks on 10,491 acres. Another 10 projects with 7 miles of stream banks on 555 acres are in the works.

In 2014, the program was expanded to include the Swift Creek watershed, another local drinking water source. Also, the partners and stakeholders began working on an updated conservation plan to include current land cover data and to refine and refocus land protection priorities. The Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative 2015-2045 Conservation Strategy identifies 260,000 priority acres and sets a goal of protecting 30,000 acres over the next 30 years.

In addition, the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities and the Natural Resources Conservation Service provided UNCWI with a generous three-year grant in 2010 as part of the Endowment’s Healthy Watersheds through Healthy Forests Initiative. The grant enabled the partner land trusts to work with forest landowners to place conservation easements on their properties and/or implement forest stewardship plans.

Learn about the projects already completed through the program.

Pepsi Bottling Ventures Renews Support for CTNC Initiatives

On June 6, Pepsi Bottling Ventures (PBV) donated $10,000 to the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC) for the fifth consecutive year. The generous grant will support both the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative (Initiative) and the North Carolina Youth Conservation Corps (NCYCC).

“Improving access to clean drinking water is an objective which makes sense, both from a business perspective, but also as citizens of this area,” said Paul Finney, President, and CEO of Pepsi Bottling Ventures. “The Conservation Trust for North Carolina serves a key leadership role in this effort and we are pleased to continue our support as they strive to find new preservation techniques while also educating the next generation on the importance of water quality.”

The Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative is a partnership of land conservation organizations working with the City of Raleigh and other local governments to conserve high priority lands along streams in the Upper Neuse River Basin, which provides drinking water to more than 600,000 people. The Upper Neuse basin drains into Falls Lake, the main drinking water source for Raleigh, and eight other reservoirs. Falls Lake supplies water to PBV’s bottling plant near Garner.

“The partners in the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative greatly appreciate Pepsi Bottling Ventures’ generous donation,” said Caitlin Burke, CTNC Associate Director. “As our region experiences unprecedented growth, it’s partnerships with companies like PBV that make it possible for us to preserve more land around streams and waterways to ensure clean drinking water, healthy communities, and our great quality of life.”

Land protection is one of the most effective ways to protect drinking water sources and limit runoff pollution. Since 2005, partners in the Initiative have completed nearly 100 projects protecting more than 8,000 acres along 89 miles of streams. Most recently, the Eno River Association completed a 56-acre purchase along the Eno River upstream of Hillsborough. Conserving critical lands like this property not only prevents pollution from entering our drinking water but it also helps maintain wildlife habitat, preserve open space, and create recreational opportunities so our region continues to be a great place to live and work.

The North Carolina Youth Conservation Corps (NCYCC) provides paid summer jobs for 16-24 year olds, with the goal of teaching them valuable work and life development skills through hands-on outdoor work on high priority conservation projects that benefit the public. Projects include trail construction and maintenance, habitat restoration, and invasive species removal. The NCYCC has six crews working on conservation projects across the state this summer, including a crew in the Upper Neuse River Basin at Falls Lake.

“I absolutely loved my contribution to conservation; being outside made conservation tangible,” said Peter Chege, NCYCC crew member. “Working directly on conservation projects and seeing the way it impacted the environment made me more self-aware of my position in my community.”

Pepsi Bottling Ventures’ support for the NCYCC will provide young people opportunities to make meaningful and long-lasting contributions to the Triangle community and sources of clean drinking water while they work outdoors and connect with nature.

Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative Recognized for Land Protection

The Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative (Initiative) was recently recognized for its expansive efforts to protect drinking water and the watersheds that support citizens in central North Carolina. The North Carolina Source Water Collaborative awarded the Initiative its 2017 Award of Excellence for Surface Water Planning and Surface Water Implementation. The award was presented at the Water Resources Research Institute conference in Raleigh.

“It is an incredible honor to be recognized by the North Carolina Source Water Collaborative for the critical work of conservation partners and local governments across the region,” said Caitlin Burke, CTNC Associate Director. “Land protection is one of the most effective ways to protect drinking water sources and limit runoff pollution while maintaining wildlife habitat, preserving open space, and providing recreational opportunities for local communities.”

As of December 2016, partners had completed 98 projects protecting 8,048 acres and land along 89 miles of streams in North Carolina’s Upper Neuse River Basin. In fall 2016 alone, partners protected 40 acres in Wake County, 33 acres in Durham County, and 114 acres in Orange County, and ensuring protective buffers along 6,851 feet of streams.

Additionally, 10 projects currently are in process. One those are completed, the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative will celebrate another milestone – conserving 10,000 acres and more than 100 miles of streams so local residents have access to safe, clean drinking water.

The Initiative is made up of nonprofit organizations and local governments that protect the lands most critical for ensuring the long-term health of drinking water supplies in the Upper Neuse Basin, which serve more than 600,000 people in Wake, Durham, Orange, Granville, Franklin, and Person counties.

NC land trusts involved in the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative include the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (coordinator), Ellerbe Creek Watershed AssociationEno River AssociationTar River Land ConservancyTriangle Greenways CouncilTriangle Land Conservancy, and The Conservation Fund.

Conservation Groups Set Goal of Protecting 30,000 Acres to Safeguard Drinking Water Quality in Upper Neuse River Basin

Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative Releases Updated Conservation Strategy

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.

The 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.

SCP_Upper_Neuse_MapThe 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.

“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 a lower cost for decades to come.”