The Future of Forests & Water in the NC Piedmont

We’re all downstream from something. A new modeling study by the U.S. Forest Service shows that forests make very good upstream neighbors.

The research focuses on the Yadkin Pee-Dee River Basin in central North Carolina. Senior research ecologists have been studying this area because of its projected rapid population growth and forest loss. Its urban area is likely to double in the future – some land use change models forecast a Piedmont Megalopolis that fully connects Atlanta and Raleigh by 2060.

The loss of forested land can lead to urban stream syndrome: more flash floods, more sediment and nutrients in the runoff water, and lower water levels in stream beds.

Climate change is bringing larger and more frequent droughts and floods to the region – conditions that exacerbate urban stream syndrome and portend water shortages.

The researchers examined how land use conversion from forest to urban would affect streamflow in 28 of the Yadkin Pee-Dee’s smaller watersheds (or subwatersheds).

Using the Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model and four paired climate-land use change scenarios (the same ones used for the Southern Forest Futures Project), they compared projections of streamflow, base flow – low streamflow between rainfall events, and peak flow – the highest streamflow of the season.

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