In the January, 2000, U. S. Forest Service report: Water and the Forest Service, [http://www.stream.fs.fed.us/publications/PDFs/Water_and_FS.pdf] was created at National Headquarters with taxpayers’ money. The report emphasizes the importance of forests for maintaining a viable, clean water supply–even for urban use. The principal point is made in the first paragraph:
HEALTHY FORESTS ARE VITAL TO CLEAN WATER
Forests are key to clean water. About 80 percent of the Nation’s scarce freshwater resources originate on forests, which cover about one-third of the Nation’s land area. The forested land absorbs rain, refills underground aquifers, cools and cleanses water, slows storm runoff, reduces flooding, sustains watershed stability and resilience, and provides critical habitat for fish and wildlife. In addition to these ecological services, forests provide abundant water-based recreation and other benefits that improve the quality of life.
The watershed issue is emphasized through out the report, especially restoration of damaged watershed. One would question the logic of permitting private corporations to destroy the landscape, vegetation and watershed, so that clean water is no longer available, and then expect taxpayers to pay for reclamation projects. Later in the report it is stated that repair of damaged watershed is not effective. (See category “h” below.) The report sums up the challenge:
The Agency Challenge [Page iv of Summary]:
The challenge for the Forest Service will be to simultaneously perform the following:
- Systematically restore damaged watersheds on the National Forests.
- Mitigate additional watershed damage from land uses and the inevitable major wildfires.
- Foster partnership efforts to meet the most pressing watershed restoration needs when they fall outside of National Forest boundaries.
The Summary [Pages i-vii] states the principal water issues the Forest Service mandate addresses:
1) Healthy forests are vital to clean water.
2) Maintaining and restoring watersheds were primary reasons for National Forests.
3) Water is the central organizer of ecosystems.
4) Following are questions regarding the role of forests in water supply:
a. How much water comes from the National Forests? Excluding Alaska, about two-thirds of the Nation’s runoff comes from forested areas. National Forest lands contribute 14 percent of the total runoff. National Forest lands are the largest single source of water in the United States and contribute water of high quality…..
b. What is the Value of Water from the National Forest lands? We calculate the marginal value of water from all National Forest lands to equal at least $3.7 billion per year.
c. One issue is whether municipal watersheds should be placed under active or passive management regimes to sustain supplies of high-quality water over the long run. Many Forest Service specialists think that water supplies can be best protected by actively managing these watersheds to maintain forest vegetation and watershed processes within their natural range of variation.
d. Can Forests be Managed to Improve Stream Flow? Flooding and sedimentation from cutover lands was one of the primary reasons for establishing national forests…. There is relatively little management can do to increase total water yield, but forest management can have major effects on water quality—affecting temperature, nutrient loadings, sediment yields, and toxic contaminants.
e. What is the Agency’s Role in Protecting Instream Flow and Ground Water? The Forest Service must actively participate in the processes that allocate surface water, ground water, and water rights. To be effective, this participation must be timely and of impeccable technical quality.
f. What is the Agency’s Role in Hydroelectric Relicensing? During the next 10 years, more than 180 of these projects come up for relicensing. The relicensing process presents the only opportunity for the Forest Service to address resource damage, mitigate future adverse effects, and significantly influence how these projects will operate for the next 30 to 50 years.
g. What is the Agency’s Role in Conserving Aquatic Biodiversity? National Forest lands and waters play a pivotal role in anchoring aquatic species and maintaining biodiversity. More then one-third of national forest lands have been identified as important to maintaining aquatic biodiversity.
h. Can the Watershed Condition on National Forests be Restored? Even with aggressive management, that momentum [of current damage rate] will not be overcome within the next 100 years under projected funding. Progress toward forest health restoration can be expected to proceed very slowly….These findings suggest that it will not be feasible to restore all degraded areas.
i. What is the Role of Urban Forests in Water Supply? Counties classified as “urban” contain one-quarter of the total tree cover of the coterminous United States. Urban trees affect water quantity by intercepting precipitation, increasing water infiltration rates, and transpiring water. They can materially reduce the rate and volume of storm water runoff, flood damage, storm water treatment costs, and other problems related to water quality.Other Forest Publications on Watershed