Cities spending millions on land to protect water supplies

Many U.S. cities are discovering they have a choice: Build huge, multibillion-dollar water-treatment plants, or buy up land around water supplies to prevent them from being polluted in the first place. More and more, they are choosing the latter option — derailing sprawl and protecting open space in the process. Austin, Texas, has used about $80 million in bonds since 1998 to buy up 20,000 acres around the nearby Edwards Aquifer (and may ask voters for $100 million more next year to expand the buffer). Since 1997, New York City has locked up about 70,000 acres of land along streams and rivers in the Catskill Mountains, at a cost of roughly $170 million. The buy-ups have sometimes been controversial with landowners and developers — though cities generally pay market rates and set up conservation easements to preserve property values — but they are popular with people who drink water.