Clean & Reliable Water

Private and public forests help keep drinking water safe, reliable and affordable

Water is the most important substance on the planet – the presence of clean and abundant water is crucial to the survival of humans and thriving communities.

Even if drinking water sources aren’t located within a forested environment, chances are high that those source watersheds derive much of their water quality from forested uplands and headwaters. In the Southeast, more than 44% of the total water supply, or about 98 trillion gallons, comes through state and private forests before it makes its way into waterbodies.

Healthy forests effectively filter water, recharge aquifers, prevent erosion, and provide more than half of the available water supply for 14 million people.

The Forest-Water Relationship

Healthy forests are critical to the future of our drinking water

The Southeastern Partnership for Forests and Water initiative recognizes that healthy forests support healthy drinking water.

Drinking water is one of our most valuable resources because we need it to survive. Healthy, sustainably-managed forests are linked to:

  • Safe and reliable drinking water
  • Less need for water treatment
  • Less energy and chemicals used in drinking water treatment processes due to reduction in turbidity and contaminants

Utilities can work in partnership with forest landowners to improve watersheds through the promotion of healthy forests.

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The Forest-Water Relationship

Healthy forests make for healthy watersheds

Even though trees cycle water in part through evapotranspiration, their ability to help the soil retain long-term moisture allows forests to sustain better streamflow.

  • Forests soften the impact from rainfall and protect soil from erosion.
  • Tree roots help rainfall soak into the soil and reduce surface runoff, helping to replenish groundwater.
  • Microbes in the soil break down nutrients and contaminants in runoff water, allowing tree roots to absorb these chemicals before entering waterways.
  • Forests provide habitat and food sources for a variety of organisms including at-risk aquatic species.

Forestry Best Management Practices (BMPs)

Implementing a science-based framework to mitigate water pollutants

The forest-water connection has been formally acknowledged by the forestry community for decades.

In 1972, the Clean Water Act (CWA) expanded U.S. water quality protections and directed states to assess nonpoint source (NPS) pollution impacts to water quality. This spurred a states-led effort to develop forestry best management practices (BMPs) for water quality. Since then, the program has grown, with all states now having forestry BMP programs in place to minimize water quality impacts and protect impaired waterbodies.

Forestry BMPs are implemented during silvicultural activities, which include harvesting timber, reforesting land, building roads, crossing streams and other typical forestry operations. When applied properly, they help control erosion and runoff, prevent pollution from hazardous chemicals and protect aquatic ecosystems.

Forestry Best Management Practices (BMPs)

The forestry community works together to protect our waters

Through a successful voluntary BMP program, southern states collaborate with land managers and other key partners to protect water quality.

The southeastern states typically apply a non-regulatory approach to BMP implementation with loggers, foresters and landowners. State forestry agencies in the South work collaboratively with key groups and stakeholders to educate, incentivize and reduce barriers to application. This often includes efforts like logger training and certification programs, preharvest planning advice, property tax incentives, equipment loan programs and helping develop forest management plans.

Learn More


Forest-Water Relationship Videos

Infographic: Clean Water Grows on Trees

Southeastern Partnership for Forests and Water

Center for Forest Watershed Research

Storymap: Benefits of State and Private Forest Lands for the South

Protecting Drinking Water at the Source

Forestry Learning Exchange

Podcast: How the River Flows

NRCS Regional Conservation Partnership Program

Storymap; 2018 Regional BMP Report

Success Story: Regional Efforts to Promote Forestry BMPs