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New Report Highlights Innovative Payments for Watershed Services

Posted by Alice Appleton and Carl Lucero, USDA Office of Environmental Markets in Forestry
Jun 14, 2011

A new report titled Innovations in Watershed-Based Conservation in the United States: Payments for Watershed Services for Agricultural and Forest Landowners was just released by EcoAgriculture Partners with funding and support from USDA’s Office of Environmental Markets (OEM) and the U.S. Endowment for Forestry & Communities. The report surveys payments for watershed services (PWS) schemes to understand their current role in the U.S. and future potential for increasing cost-effective watershed protection on private lands.

Water is crucial for many human needs; yet water resources in the United States face serious threats from increasing pollution and overuse.  PWS can address these challenges effectively as a complement to USDA conservation programs and other existing incentives.

Under PWS programs, farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners can choose to provide watershed protection services—improvements to water quality or increases in water efficiency—and in return receive payments or other forms of compensation from the beneficiaries of these services.  Beneficiaries from water utilities to beverage companies choose to pay landowners for watershed services, because PWS are typically more affordable than traditional engineering solutions for water quality and quantity.  What’s more, PWS offer co-benefits including job creation, economic development, cleaner air, and open space.

In addition to the report, a map-based inventory of the identified PWS systems is available online through The Conservation Registry, a repository of conservation projects in the United States.  The PWS inventory is a “living” database and can be updated regularly.  Combined, the report and inventory are intended to help policymakers, landowners, conservationists, and water management professionals explore PWS opportunities in their areas.

The PWS report complements a recent discussion paper by Resources for the Future that was also funded by OEM.  Ecosystem Services: Quantification, Policy Applications, and Current Federal Capabilities assess the degree to which the Federal Government is using an ecosystem services framework to inform its policies and incentive-based programs.

For more information on these reports and other OEM activities, contact Carl Lucero, OEM, USDA, 202-401-0531,, or visit the OEM website.

Category/Topic: Forestry