Forests Provide Clean Drinking Water for the South

A recent report by the U.S. Forest Service shows that for over 19 million people in the South – roughly the population of Florida – clean water begins in the region’s national forests. The report provides information at a level not previously available on the amount of surface drinking water national forest lands provide to communities in the South.

The Forest Service Southern Region and Southern Research Station (SRS) worked together to produce the report’s analysis, tables, and maps, which include detailed data on public water system intakes, number of customers served, and percent of water originating on National Forest System lands for each of the 33 national forests managed by the Southern Region. The Southern Region manages over 13 million acres of forest land in the South, some 6 percent of total forest land in a region where most forests are privately owned.

“We identified specific communities and populations that depend on water originating from National Forest System lands and provided data quantifying the extent of that dependence,” said Peter Caldwell, research hydrologist at the SRS Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory. “In all, National Forest System lands in the South contribute 8 trillion gallons per year to the total water supply of these communities.”

The report illustrates the extent to which people in the South depend on forested lands to provide them with clean reliable sources of drinking water. A combination of federal, state, and private forests cover over 30 percent of the region’s total land area and provide 36 percent of total water yield. More than 2100 individual communities rely directly on national forest land for drinking water, including large population areas such as Houston, Atlanta, Knoxville, and Birmingham.

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