Protecting the Nation’s Drinking Water Means Protecting Forests (Op-Ed) by Kathy Abusow, Sustainable Forestry Initiative, and Carlton Owen, U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities
An estimated two-thirds of the nation’s freshwater resources originate in forests, according to the U.S. Forest Service. This makes protecting forestlands critically important in order to ensure a supply of clean, safe water. Recent research also suggests that protecting watersheds reduces long-term water treatment and storage costs for consumers. Recognizing this, water utilities increasingly are taking responsibility for the health of local watersheds, with a special emphasis on protecting the forests they contain.
To that end, the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities (Endowment), supported by a grant from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), is launching an initiative to better engage forest landowners and water utilities in finding new ways to protect and maintain watersheds on privately owned forest lands.
The project will encourage forest owners and water utilities to work together to conserve watersheds by keeping their forest locations healthy – the most cost-effective way for communities to ensure continued access to clean water.
Both the Endowment and SFI believe strongly that one of the best ways to protect the nation’s water quality is to develop effective collaborations between water utilities and forest landowners. Investing in land protection to protect sources of drinking water is smart, both economically and environmentally.
It’s important to note that protecting forests does not necessarily mean public ownership or “set asides.” Well-managed private forests offer many advantages, such as keeping land on the tax rolls, while still providing the myriad benefits that flow from forests – renewable wood and paper products, wildlife habitat, places for recreation and much more. The magic is in keeping forests as forests.