Forests are undeniably integral to the supply of clean, drinking water available to populations living in the midwest and northeast. More than 52 million people in this region depend on surface water to drink, cook, bath and wash with and the majority of this water comes from forested lands. The general population is mostly unaware of the connection between their clean water supply and the conditions and preservation of forests; the security of the water supply cannot depend on water treatment alone. Management and protection of forested source watersheds is critical to the future of delivering a clean, safe and affordable water supply to the public.
The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Northeastern Area State and Private Forestry conducted an analysis of people, water usage and forest source watersheds and published a paper entitled “Forests, Water and People: Drinking water supply and forest lands in the Northeast and Midwest United States” in June 2009. This analysis utilized GIS mapping to draw attention to the importance of the connection between forests and the protection of surface water quality. As population and demand increases the role forest management plays as the first line of defense for clean surface water becomes more apparent. Nearly 1,600 community water systems provide 75% of the region’s population with municipal drinking water sourced from surface water protected by private forested lands. This USDA analysis identified water supplies and the forests which protect them.
The Forests, Water and People analysis created maps of 540 watersheds in the northeast and midwest. They used a four-step process to detail current and possible future conditions: 1) created an index of comparative ranking predicting water quality and watershed integrity by evaluating physical and biological factors affecting the production of clean water, 2) highlighted total water consumption served by surface water supplies per watershed and scored the watersheds by how many consumers were served, 3) focused on watersheds that are both critical for the water supply to a great population and covered a large percentage of unprotected forest land and 4) drew attention to areas under the greatest pressure from development that threatens protected forests which are important to protecting the water supply.
This analysis was completed in order to assist in accomplishing a spectrum of goals related to forest conservation and water quality including;
- Targeting resources served by the U.S. Forest Service as priority watershed areas,
- Developing the Forest Stewardship, Forest Legacy Program as well as other conservation and grassroots stewardship programs,
- Establishing an substantial evaluation of regional and national water quality,
- Expand protection and enhancement of forests, drinking water supplies, aquatic ecosystems and public health
- Assist states in developing their own resource assessments and strategies
To download and view the full Forests, Water and People report, please visit http://na.fs.fed.us/pubs/misc/watersupply/forests_water_people_watersupply.pdf.