BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Though we are fortunate in Western New York to be surrounded by fresh water, it's something that we often take for granted. The headwaters, or beginnings of streams, are particularly important to overall stream health, but are easy to overlook.

"In our case in Western New York, it's water coming out of the ground -- these are old glacial deposits from the glacial retreat twelve thousand years ago," says Naturalist and author Margaret Wooster.

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper's Deputy Executive Director Kerrie Gallo emphasizes the importance of headwaters.

"When water is emerging from the ground, it's the place where streams begin. It starts to pick up nutrients that carry all the way downstream," she says.

She also explains that headwaters provide habitats for fish, including native species like Brook Trout.

"It also really shapes our entire stream system from its beginning all the way down to its mouth," she says.

In the Southern Tier, a unique public-private agreement recently led to the acquisition of an important tract of forest land that will protect the headwaters of Eighteen Mile creek in Erie County.

The land had been owned by the same family for over 100 years.

Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper began the process of stewardship for the entire community.

"We put together this really amazing unique partnership where the Nature Conservancy and Riverkeeper both brought about half of the acquisition funding to the table, and at the end of the day we were able to turn it over as a gift to the County, which they gratefully accepted," Gallo said.

Greg Olma, Erie County Deputy Commissioner for Parks and Recreation, says: "We're probably the best steward of lands like this. Under the state law, park land is dedicated and it's held in perpetuity by the owner which in this case is Erie County. So if you want to maintain it forever, the best way to do it is give it to the county."

The acquisition of this land combines adjacent county property into a nearly one thousand acre tract of undeveloped forest. Protection of large unbroken woodland is important for a number of reasons.

"Forests benefit people, they benefit nature, everything from the tangible water that you're drinking out of your faucet to some of the intangibles, the habitat for fish and things like that," Gallo says.