A new partnership to protect our water and strengthen our forests

By Tom Vilsack

    The USDA and the Department of Interior announced a new effort – the Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership – to enhance our forests and protect America’s water supply. This is important for anyone who pays a water bill, and it’s important for the future of our environment.

    Americans in our cities depend on clean water at the tap, and our farmers and ranchers rely on water to irrigate their crops and sustain livestock. Our public lands are very important in this regard. In fact, our National Forests and interior lands provide water for more than 60 million Americans.
    When forests are healthy, they filter rain and snowmelt, regulate runoff and slow soil erosion – delivering clean water at lower cost. But a changing climate threatens a greater risk for severe wildfires that release sediment, debris and ash into streams and rivers. Ultimately, these impacts of wildfire make it tougher to clean the water at treatment plants. Water companies are forced to make expensive repairs to equipment and those costs are passed on to water consumers.
    The Western Watershed Enhancement Partnership will bring together the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, local partners and private water users to restore forest lands in a proactive way. By bringing together land and water managers from across the west, we can increase forest resiliency, improve water quality, and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire. This promises healthier forests, and savings for water users.
    The new partnership was highlighted recently in President Obama’s Climate Action Plan – which calls for such proactive measures to protect the nation’s critical infrastructure and reduce the impacts of a changing climate.
    This announcement also complements USDA’s many other efforts to conserve America’s natural resources. To ensure strong natural resource conservation in the years to come, USDA will continue to encourage Congressional passage of a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill. Farmers, landowners and forest owners need a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill to make effective use of limited conservation funds, while building on record conservation efforts underway today.
    USDA is ready to combat the impacts of climate change, and put the environment on track to a healthy future. We’ll keep working together with our partners across the country to protect America’s natural resources – and we will continue to encourage Congress to achieve passage of a comprehensive Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible.
    Tom Vilsack is secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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