Healthy Headwaters Initiative

Owens River headwaters, Sierra Nevada Wilderness
John Dittli
Communities across the United States depend on the headwaters of rivers and streams for clean drinking water. But America’s water is at risk because our headwaters are increasingly harmed by threats like climate change.

A diverse coalition of individuals, organizations and communities have come together to protect and restore our headwaters. The Healthy Headwaters Initiative is a locally driven program that will secure America’s water for future generations.

What are headwaters?

Headwaters are the source of all rivers and streams that eventually lead to lakes and estuaries. Many of them exist deep within our national forests and 66 million of Americans depend on these headwaters for their drinking water.

See also:

Land and Water Conservation Fund

Why are they threatened?

In the West, climate change threatens many headwaters, which provide most of the water there. Climate change:

  • Increases the risk of wildfire
  • Decreases the amount of snow stored in the mountains
  • Introduces invasive species
  • Changes the vegetation

See also:

Climate change and Ecosystem Services

Public health and climate change 

The Alliance

The Healthy Headwaters Alliance was born out of the need to protect our watersheds from climate change and other stressors. The Alliance is a diverse coalition of:

  • Water utility companies
  • Elected officials
  • Scientists
  • Conservationists

Given that “all water is local,” the Alliance advocates for headwater protection and restoration efforts that are community-driven and supported by locals.

How to make the Healthy Watershed Initiative work

In order to have a locally-driven, functioning Healthy Headwaters Initiative, you need:

  • Community partnerships with buy-in from a diverse constituency
  • Comprehensive and locally-tailored (not one-size-fits-all) watershed protection and security plans
  • The use of sound science and evidence to craft plans
  • The ability to look into the long term when developing plans
  • Shared investment, rather than relying on just one entity like the federal government or utility companies to pay for the initiative.

Success stories

There have been many success stories where local communities have come together to protect their water supply. These include:

While the Healthy Headwaters Initiative is still growing, people across the West are realizing that their most precious natural resource is threatened. Non-traditional allies are coming together like never before to protect our drinking water for future generations.


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