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Individual Highlight

Forest Cover Plays a More Critical Role in Regulating Water Resources in the Piedmont than in the Mountains and Coastal Plain

Photo of An aerial view shows an experimental watershed study on the hydrologic impacts of forest clearing in North Carolina’s Piedmont region. David Jones, North Carolina Forest ServiceAn aerial view shows an experimental watershed study on the hydrologic impacts of forest clearing in North Carolina’s Piedmont region. David Jones, North Carolina Forest ServiceSnapshot : The mountains, Piedmont, and coastal plain are three distinct land provinces across the southeastern U.S. Population density, topography, and types of forests are unique to each region, resulting in a range of different water resource needs and responses to land cover changes. Understanding how streamflow will respond to land disturbances such as timber harvesting and development planning across these regions can provide useful information to land managers as they set streamflow targets needed to maintain healthy fish habitat and meet human water demand.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Boggs, Johnny 
Research Location : Durham and Granville Counties, North Carolina
Research Station : Southern Research Station (SRS)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 934

Summary

The Carolinas have a long history of forest hydrology research, but little is known about the impacts of forest harvesting on streamflow in the rapidly urbanizing Piedmont region of North and South Carolina. Forest Service scientists at the agency’s Southern Research Station Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center developed a six-year study to address this spatial knowledge gap through a series of watershed studies. The researchers found that forest vegetation plays a more significant role in affecting streamflow in the Piedmont than in the mountains and coastal plain due to the region's topography and climatic conditions.

The amount of water in streams studied tripled following forest clearing, suggesting that when converted from forests to urban lands, watersheds in the Piedmont might be more prone to high flows or flooding than the mountains and coastal plain. Streamflow and sediment increased with tree removal, although habitat for fish and other aquatic species remained healthy throughout the study period. The research results provide a better understanding of how Piedmont watersheds store and release water and nutrients and how to apply the most appropriate timber harvest management practices to protect fish and water resources across the mountains, Piedmont, and coastal plain. Planning for future urban growth in the Piedmont should consider the unique impacts to streamflow in response to land cover change in the region.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service
  • North Carolina Forest Service
  • North Carolina State University
  • Weyerhaeuser