America’s private forests provide a vast array of public goods and services, including abundant, clean surface water. Forest loss and development can affect water quality and quantity when forests are removed and impervious surfaces, such as paved roads, spread across the landscape. We rank watersheds across the conterminous United States according to the contributions of private forest land to surface drinking water and by threats to surface water from increased housing density. Private forest land contributions to drinking water are greatest in the East but are also important in Western watersheds. Development pressures on these contributions are concentrated in the Eastern United States but are also found in the North-Central region, parts of the West and Southwest, and the Pacific Northwest; nationwide, more than 55 million acres of rural private forest land are projected to experience a substantial increase in housing density from 2000 to 2030. Planners, communities, and private landowners can use a range of strategies to maintain freshwater ecosystems, including designing housing and roads to minimize impacts on water quality, managing home sites to protect water resources, and using payment schemes and management partnerships to invest in forest stewardship on public and private lands.
Mockrin, M.H.; Lilja, R.L.; Weidner, E.; Stein, S.M.; Carr, M.A. 2014. Private forests, housing growth, and America’s water supply: A report from the Forests on the Edge and Forests to Faucets Projects. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-327. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 29 p.