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Rocky Mountain Research Station
240 West Prospect Road
Fort Collins, CO 80526-2098

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RMRS-GTR-324: Freshwater resources in designated wilderness areas of the United States: A state-of-knowledge review

Citation: Johnson, Adam N.; Spildie, David R. 2014. Freshwater resources in designated wilderness areas of the United States: A state-of-knowledge review. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-324. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 32 p.

Abstract: Clean water is essential for ecosystem processes and for the maintenance of human populations. However, fresh water accounts for less than three percent of the world’s total water volume. Numerous anthropogenic and natural processes impact the quality and quantity of the available resource. The value of high-quality water will likely increase as threats to water resources expand and human demands increase. In the United States, public lands such as forests and grasslands often contain watersheds that have been minimally modified by human disturbances. Wilderness areas in particular often provide disproportionately large volumes of high quality water. Such regions are critically important for providing water supplies that serve a variety of purposes and uses. The value of water draining these lands is arguably higher now than when the National Wilderness Preservation System was created 50 years ago. The purpose of this technical report is to review currently available information and to encourage future research. The report discusses several important topics and themes relating to fresh water resources originating in wilderness areas, including: surface water quality and quantity; groundwater resources; water uses and benefits; ecosystem services and water valuation mechanisms; potential climate change impacts; water-related legislation; and case studies and maps. Case studies highlight the societal benefits that may be obtained from water derived from designated wilderness areas. A GIS mapping analysis of several regions provides a qualitative view of the value of water draining wilderness areas by illustrating the physical proximity of high-quality resources to populous regions. Scientific research completed in the last several decades has provided a framework for understanding the contributions and benefits of large volumes of high-quality water from wilderness areas for a variety of uses. More recent analysis has begun to refine our understanding of these resources in the areas of water supply and quantity, water quality, climate change impacts, and ecosystem services. However, additional crucial research is needed to document and evaluate the benefits of such resources and their importance to ecological vitality, to economies, and to future generations.

Keywords: wilderness, water, surface water, ground water, water quality, water quantity, ecosystem services, water use, water values and benefits, water supply

PDF File Size: 5.6 MB

USDA Forest Service - Rocky Mountain Research Station Publications
Publish Date: April 30, 2014
Last Modified: April 30, 2014

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