November 18, 2012

Kudos to James Salzman for reminding us of our dependence on reliable supplies of clean water and on the investments required to provide it [“We take safe drinking water for granted. We shouldn’t,” Outlook, Nov. 11]. We should also remember one investment that his essay omitted: protecting the farmland where New York City’s 1 billion gallons of clean water per day originate.

In 1993, the city’s vaunted water system was threatened. The Environmental Protection Agency was ready to require a $6 billion filtration plant. Instead, the city forged a partnership between its residents and the farmers and communities of the Catskills and Delaware watersheds to jointly invest in watershed protection. The city would contribute funding for permanent conservation easements on farm and forest land and support the farmers to develop whole farm conservation plans and implement best practices. Using the land itself as a water filter, they preserved the region’s rich heritage of working farms and forests.

The result is the clean and reliable water source that Mr. Salzman praised, at a fraction of the cost. Our farmland shouldn’t be taken for granted, either. New York provided a lesson for all of us involved in Chesapeake Bay water quality restoration.

Jim Baird, Washington

The writer is Mid-Atlantic director of the American Farmland Trust.