Executive Director, Braye Boardman:

Savannah River Clean Water Fund

Braye Boardman and fish on Saluda River near Columbia, SC

This month we spoke with Braye Boardman, one of our founding members and Executive Director of the newly formed Savannah River Clean Water Fund.

We’re sure you’ll all be very excited to learn about this new bi-state effort between South Carolina and Georgia stakeholders with which the Central Savannah River Land Trust is proud to partner.

Left: Braye Boardman fishing on Saluda River near Columbia, SC. A great example of what a healthy watershed area can be!

Below: Map of the area along the River from Clark’s Hill to the Coast where the Savannah River Clean Water Fund will be active.


Q: What is the Clean Water Fund and how did this initiative get started?

A: The Savannah River Clean Water Fund got started in 2009 with a South Low Country (SOLO) Task Force comprised of state and federal government agencies, local environmental non-profit organizations, landowners, businesses and private interests, with the agreement that there was an explicit connection between the land resources of the Savannah River Basin and the impact on raw water supplies.

Shortly thereafter, a Special Steering Committee was formed with the addition of key stakeholders: water utilities and state regulatory agencies with the mission of protecting the river corridor and watershed.

As a result, the Savannah River Clean Water Fund (the Fund) was formed in August 2014 to support conservation, protection and enhancement of the water quality in the Savannah River Basin including the streams, creeks tributaries and lands adjacent to the basin.

With that said, the Savannah River basin is 2.8 billion acre watershed which provides drinking water to over 1.5 million people in two states. . We also have major industries which rely on the Savannah’s water supply for both intake and discharge use. Obviously, we can’t preserve all 2.8 billion acres – we have to be strategic. Therefore, the Fund worked with the Nature Conservancy of Georgia to analyze GIS (geographic information systems) data of all the individual land parcels in the watershed, looking at forest cover, soil type, etc. The Nature Conservancy determined which tracts of land were the most sensitive to adverse effects on water quality if they were developed or if their current use changed. They created a map showing Priority Areas for us to preserve first (the red areas in the map above). You can see that there is a lot of preservation that we wish to accomplish in the CSRA! So, you’ll be hearing from me again – soon!


Q: What is the role of Land Trusts in the Fund’s mission?

A: The Fund is really just a deal-maker. Nothing happens without Land Trusts, the Nature Conservancy, and an on the ground network of landowners. The Fund matches up pots of money and funds to support the necessary conservation work.

For example, a landowner may not be able to donate an easement because he or she is land rich, but cash poor. In these instances, the Fund can create a pot of money as an incentive in order to protect the priority land tracts that can have the greatest impact on water quality, such as land which borders the Savannah River directly or streams and tributaries that lead to the River.

Partner Land Conservation Organizations include: Central Savannah River Land Trust, Nature Conservancy of Georgia, Nature Conservancy of South Carolina, Georgia-Alabama Land Trust, Low Country Land Trust, Athens Land Trust, Beaufort County Open Land Trust, the Department of Agriculture’s Federal Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and Ducks Unlimited.

Q: What is the role of the Water Utilities? Why would they be interested in raw water quality?

A: This is the big Gamechanger. This is the first time water municipalities in two states, covering a 2.8 million acre watershed, have pooled resources together to protect their source-water and ensure a sustainable supply of clean water for generations to come! Up until now, water utilities have focused on building water treatment plants. Now they are discovering that it is economically beneficial for them to have a multi-tiered approach to water treatment combining built infrastructure with green infrastructure. Specifically, they have realized that if the water that arrives in their municipal water treatment plants is cleaner because it came from a cleaner preserved watershed, then there is less to treat and clean before the water is safe to drink.

In the future, source-water protection will take on an increasingly important role in a water utility’s multi-barrier water treatment program based on the understanding that forests and drinking water are intertwined.

The five largest water municipal water utilities in the Savannah River basin are partnering with us, including: City of Savannah, Beaufort Jasper Water and Sewer Authority (provides water to Hilton Head, Beaufort and Bluffton area), City of Augusta, City of North Augusta, SC and Columbia County.

Q: Where else in the country has a similar program existed that has worked?

A:The prime example is New York City 30 years ago. Today, people say NYC is the “champagne” of public drinking water nationwide,and that is because the Water Utilities and public health officials realized that it would be much more cost-effective to protect the land in the Catskills watershed, north of the City, so that water arriving to the City treatment plants would be cleaner and require less treatment to convert to safe drinking water. Therefore, they created a series of conservation easements along the Hudson River Valley to limit development and costly regulations, and to ensure that the raw water arriving to New York City was as clean as possible. The cost savings were monumental and really placed Water Utility water-source protection planning on the map.

Other communities using natural infrastructure strategies and complementary built infrastructure nationwide, include:Portland, ME; Fort Collins and Greeley, CO; Eugene, OR; New York, NY; New Haven, CT; Flagstaff, AZ; Salt Lake City, UT; Santa Fe, NM; Manchester, NH; Little Rock, AR; and closer to home – Raleigh/Durham, NC.

Q: What are The Fund’s projects in the CSRA? – working with Land Trustt?

A: We currently have 3-4 priority land conservation projects in the pipeline.

Locally, the Central Savannah River Land Trust and The Fund are working on a very exciting preservation project with the Federal Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Resources (NRCS) that would protect over 1,000 acres of farmland along the River.

Q: As a Founding Father of the Land Trust, why do you feel that conservation easements are a positive force in our communities? What do you wish you would see more of?

A: The first thing that comes to mind is our quality of life in the CSRA. I believe one of the primary reasons people and companies move to our area is because of our great outdoors and natural landscape, as well as our clean, abundant water supply. This is, in part, due to the fact that the Land Trust has protected over 7,000 acres in 12 counties, much of it along the River basin and in the immediate watershed.

I grew up hunting and fishing on the Savannah River and have a great love for this resource. My family has owned property on Savannah River for years, and actually put a conservation easement on it to make sure it’s natural beauty will be forever protected.

We created the Land Trust knowing the importance of the River and other natural resources to our region’s quality of life and economic prosperity. We would not be able to attract people and companies to move to area if we did not have a clean, abundant, and sustainable supply of water.

Today, I love watching the Land Trust expand the diversity of connection between Nature and community from 5k Runs to urban farming and beyond. I’m excited to see the various activities and partnerships come to life on the Greystone Preserve in particular!