The Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative, working with landowners, foresters, and municipal governments, implements sustainable forestry practices on more than 50 properties to protect drinking water downstream.

Raleigh, N.C. – The Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative completed work this fall on a $1.7 million grant from the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities. The three-year grant awarded in 2010 was part of the Healthy Watersheds through Healthy Forests Initiative, which directed monies to three projects nationwide to safeguard drinking water supplies by implementing sustainable forest management upstream from reservoirs.

The grant enabled the partnership of seven local land trusts, coordinated by the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, to work with landowners and foresters within the 770-square mile Upper Neuse River basin to identify and implement forest management practices that will protect drinking water for more than 600,000 people in Wake, Durham, Orange, and Granville counties.

The land trusts worked with private forest landowners to voluntarily adopt practices that improve forest management, enhance forest health, and increase forest cover – practices that benefit the nine drinking reservoirs in the Upper Neuse basin while helping landowners grow economically viable and sustainably managed timber. The partners helped create 38 Forest Stewardship Plans covering 5,412 acres, helped implement 26 forest management projects covering 856 acres, and completed six working forest conservation easements covering 668 acres.

A Forest Stewardship Plan is prepared by a certified forester and outlines activities and a timeline for management actions that will enhance a forest for wildlife, soil and water quality, timber production, recreational opportunities, and/or natural beauty, depending on an individual landowner’s objectives. Forest management projects are the actions taken to implement the Plan, and represent sustainable forestry in practice.

Working forest conservation easements restrict specific types of development on a property to protect forest values while enabling landowners to earn income from the land through sustainable forestry. All of these tools allow landowners to conserve their forest resources for long-term benefits, but still derive income to support the ongoing costs of ownership and stewardship.

partners also purchased and donated steel bridge mats and a rehab plow to the North Carolina Forest Service. This equipment, which is available to loggers in the Upper Neuse basin at no charge, will enable foresters to manage forests and harvest timber with greatly reduced impacts to water quality.

Working with the UNC Environmental Finance Center, Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative partners also created tools to inform local governments about financing options to fund drinking water protection. The information helped Raleigh and Durham approve minimal increases in water rates in 2011 to establish new funding sources to conserve lands along the streams that feed drinking water reservoirs.

“The generous grant from the US Endowment for Forestry and Communities enabled local land trusts to work with landowners to conserve and sustainably manage nearly 7,000 acres of forests in the Upper Neuse River basin,” said Reid Wilson, Executive Director of the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. “This common sense approach to maintaining water quality will safeguard downstream drinking water supplies like Falls Lake for decades to come.”

The Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative (UNCWI) is a partnership effort to prioritize and protect those lands most critical for the long-term health of drinking water supplies in the Upper Neuse River Basin in central North Carolina. The land trusts involved in the Upper Neuse Clean Water Initiative include the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (coordinator), Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association, Eno River Association, Tar River Land Conservancy, Triangle Greenways Council, Triangle Land Conservancy, and the Trust for Public Land.