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Tracking Water into the Forest

It is easy to forget that the water from our faucets has a long journey from its source to our homes, but that journey has a big impact on the cost of water treatment.  The healthier the watershed it flows through, the lower the cost of treatment.  Last week, the US Forest Service released maps highlighting the importance of forests in that journey.

It is easy to forget that the water from our faucets has a long journey from its source to our homes, but that journey has a big impact on the cost of water treatment.   The healthier the watershed it flows through, the lower the cost of treatment.   Last week, the US Forest Service released maps highlighting the importance of forests in that journey.

14 November 2011 | It may seem like magic sometimes, but we all know that the water gushing out of your faucet is the product of a water treatment facility – and, in the best cases, that treatment is minimal because the watershed that delivered the water is healthy and clean.

Last week, the US Forest Service released a series of maps highlighting the integral role forests play in providing clean drinking water.   The project, Forests to Faucets, features interactive maps that describe threats to watershed’s forests, like development, fire, insects and disease.

Using this data, communities in urban areas can identify which watersheds are important to their drinking water.   The Forests to Faucets project can also help these communities develop a payment for watershed services scheme to finance conservation of the forests.   According to USFS, the cost of treating drinking water increases 20 percent for every 10 percent loss of watershed forest land.

Many communities in the US are already engaging in this type of program.   In August, 2010, Denver Water signed a $33 million deal with the USFS to dedicate a portion of water fees to the protection and restoration of forests in the area.

And New York City provides payments to upstream farmers for watershed protection—one of the most famous payment for ecosystem services schemes.

“Spending money on forest management upstream in a watershed saves money on water treatment downstream,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “The Forests to Faucets project provides powerful information that can help identify forest areas that play a key role in providing clean drinking water.”

The Conservation Priority Index (CPI) works with the Forests to Faucets data to narrow the range even further, helping communities determine essential parcels of forest land for these PWS schemes.

Understanding the direct source is important for effectively protecting watersheds because many of the parcels are held privately.

20 percent of the nation’s water supply comes from watersheds within national forests and grasslands, a value estimated to exceed $27 billion per year. However, 60 percent of the nation’s water flows from private lands.

“We expect Forests to Faucets will support rural economies by steering funding to upstream landowners, encouraging healthy forests and healthy water,” said Tidwell.

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