A Watershed Moment

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Science  29 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6029, pp. 514
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6029.514-a

With increasing population and climate change exerting pressures on water resources, efforts to improve water quality are under way across a range of governmental levels. Yet water management strategies such as setting aside land for conservation can be highly variable between jurisdictions, and often watersheds cross national or international borders, making assessment of such efforts difficult. Wickham et al. catalogued and analyzed over 5000 drinking water watersheds in the conterminous United States, documenting some of the most important land-use factors controlling water quality, such as natural vegetation ground cover and extent of urbanization. From 1992 to 2001, about five times more watersheds showed a sizable decrease in natural vegetation cover than showed a comparable increase. Urbanization increased in 75% of the watersheds—9% showing more than a 1% increase. Because only a small fraction, particularly in the eastern United States, is conserved land, the growth of urbanization may soon exceed new conservation efforts.

Landscape Ecol. 10.1007/s10980-011-9591-5 (2011).

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