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Forest Service Chief highlights importance of agency’s role in evaluating groundwater resources

September 10th, 2014 at 3:45PM

A photo of Greer spring found on the Mark Twain National Forest, Missouri. In recent years, we’ve seen growing concerns about the availability and quality of water across the country. Drought, climate change, land use changes, and needs for additional water highlight these concerns. Stewardship of water resources is one of this country’s most important natural resource issues. In fact, it’s one of the primary reasons national forests and grasslands were created.

As part of our renewed emphasis on water, we are developing a comprehensive policy to monitor, assess, evaluate and measure groundwater resources on national forests and grasslands. We began seeking public comments on May 6 asking your thoughts on a plan to strengthen our ability to protect water resources and support healthy and resilient ecosystems on Forest Service-managed lands. We extended the comment period to Oct. 3.

Serving as a reservoir, groundwater supplies cold, clean water to springs, streams and wetlands. In fact, water from national forests and grasslands supplies more than 60 million Americans with clean drinking water. These lands alone provide 18 percent of the nation’s total freshwater and over half the freshwater in the West. Water from national forests and grasslands contribute to the economic and ecological vitality of rural and urban communities across the nation.

A photo of a a freshwater spring, is a direct tributary to the Metolius River on the Deschutes National Forest in Oregon. Clearly, we have a responsibility to address potential impacts to groundwater and surface water on national forests and grasslands. But, just as we have in the past, we will continue to do so in cooperation with states and Tribes that have the responsibility for allocating and protecting water resources.

The proposed directive is not a new authority, nor a new regulation. The proposal does not infringe on the states’ authority, nor do we infer that the proposed directive extend to the appropriation of water.

Our proposed directive will help us to establish a more consistent and credible approach to evaluating and monitoring the effects on groundwater from actions on national forests and grasslands. Specifically, we want to:

  • Create a consistent approach for gathering information about groundwater systems that influence and are influenced by surface uses on national forests, and for evaluating the potential effects on groundwater resources of proposed activities and uses on these lands.
  • Bolster the ability of Forest Service land managers to make informed decisions, with a more complete understanding of the potential impacts for activities on these lands to and from groundwater.
  • Support management and authorization of various multiple uses by better allowing the Forest Service to meet its statutory responsibility to fully analyze and disclose the potential impacts of uses or activities.

We are pleased with the many responses we have received to date from states, tribes and individuals. We look forward to receiving more and to reviewing all comments for our consideration in drafting the final directive.  Our goal is to improve the quality and consistency of our approach to understanding groundwater resources to inform the decisions we make to ensure that we develop the most cohesive approach to address groundwater on national forests and grasslands.