The Important Link Between Forests and Water

Growing Blue

With about 66% of the Nation’s scarce freshwater resources originating on forest land, forest ecosystems play a critical role in delivering clean water to the public.

Forests serve as a living sponge to capture, store and slowly release precipitation, thus slowing storm runoff. Forests are also essential in trapping and transforming the chemicals and nutrient deposits that come in the rain, filtering pollutants such as sediments, fertilizers and pesticides from agricultural and urban runoff, and reducing soil erosion.

Water suppliers and municipalities must turn their attention to their upstream water resources because as our population grows, demand for water and other natural resources will increase. The Forest Service estimates that within the next 25 years more than 11 percent (about 44.3 million acres) of the private forests in the contiguous United States will be at risk of conversion to developed uses.

Trees can be a solution for maintaining water quality, regulating flows and providing clean drinking water.

  • The city of Topeka, Kansas, strategically designed its stormwater management projects to incorporate trees, shrubs and grass. The results are a greener city, better stormwater quality, and an estimated 25 percent cost savings. The City of Philadelphia is now working on its own Green City plan which is expected to provide about 250 new jobs annually and up to $8.5 million in water quality and habitat improvements over the next 40 years. It includes a large scale tree initiative to filter and store runoff.
  • In northwestern Oregon, a local wastewater facility is paying upstream landowners to plant shade trees along the Tualatin River. Instead of installing refrigeration systems at two treatment plants – a $35 million expense with additional annual operating costs, the water utility is investing $6 million in direct landowner incentives to achieve the same water quality goals. With 60% of forested lands being privately owned, payments may offer landowners the necessary additional economic incentive to stay on the land, thereby improving water management.

Learn More:
U.S. Forest Service Forests to Faucet Project