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watershed

Celebrating World Water Day along the Eastern Continental Divide

Today, March 22, is World Water Day, and the U.S. Forest Service joins the international community in celebrating water and inspiring good stewardship of this vital resource. Forests are essential to our survival and well-being due in large part to the ecosystem services they provide, including our fresh water.

Surface water that originates on our national forests has many important purposes, one of which is providing drinking water for millions of people in the United States. Surface water is water in rivers, streams, creeks, lakes and reservoirs. Surrounding trees and forests play a major role in keeping these waterways clean and healthy.

Western Water Threatened by Wildfire

By Tom Fry, Western Conservation Director, American Forest Foundation

Tom Fry is the Western Conservation Director of the American Forest Foundation (AFF). AFF and the U.S. Forest Service hold a long-standing partnership in pursuit of protecting and conserving the important forest benefits that come from family and individually owned forest lands across the United States and ensuring the next generation of Americans understands and value forests for all the benefits they provide.

As we get ready for the 2016 wildfire season, a recent report from the American Forest Foundation (AFF) looks at one of the most important, but often overlooked, issues related to forest health: the relationship between water supply and the risk of fire to our forests.

Training the Next Generation of Watershed Managers to Fight Drought

With drought reaching historic proportions in Western states, America needs people with both knowledge and experience in water management to help ensure that forests and working lands stay ahead of the effects of climate change.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) is partnering with land-grant universities, minority-serving institutions, federal agencies, and other organizations to get qualified students out of their classrooms and into the field where they can pick up real, hands-on experience in natural resource protection.

In Oregon, Finding the Lost River Whychus

Sisters is a dreamy mountain town in Central Oregon with almost everything you might want in a scenic hideaway. With snowy peaks and expansive forests, it is an ideal location for biking, hiking, or simply contemplating wide expanses of blue sky. But for many years Sisters was missing one crucial thing - we had lost our river.

For thousands of years, Native Americans followed a winding course of icy snowmelt into the high country of the Three Sisters Mountains that gave the town its name. The river was full of waterfalls and wild steelhead salmon. It provided more than half of the steelhead spawning habitat in the Upper Deschutes River Basin. The river had several names, but in 1855, when Pacific Railroad Survey Engineers came through looking for a railroad route to the ocean, they recorded in their journals that the river was called “Whychus”.

Much Ado about Fisher

Located at the base of the Ashland Creek Watershed, the city of Ashland, Oregon, is home to nearly 21,000 people and a bustling tourist industry that revolves around world-class theatre experiences. Rogue Valley residents and tourists actively and passionately recreate in the Ashland municipal watershed, of which the upper portion is located primarily on the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.

Like many areas in Southwest Oregon, a history of fire suppression has dramatically changed the way forests could potentially respond to fires. Stands once considered to be fire-adapted and fire-resilient have become densely overgrown. As a result of this fuels buildup, a high-intensity fire could result in the loss of the watershed’s largest trees, which help maintain soil stability and clean drinking water, and provide habitat for a diverse range of wildlife species.

Comparing the Baltic Sea and Chesapeake Bay Provides Lessons for More Cost-Effective Policies

Situated on two different continents and separated by thousands of miles, the Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast of the United States and the Baltic Sea in northern Europe face remarkably similar problems. Both are relatively shallow basins of brackish water. Both marine areas suffer from eutrophication--pollution caused by introduction of chemical nutrients. For both water bodies, agriculture is the single most important source of those nutrients, and governments have implemented policies to reduce nutrient loads and improve marine ecosystems.

Researchers at the Natural Resources Institute Finland, USDA's Economic Research Service, and the University of Helsinki have analyzed the similarities and differences between the institutional settings and protection policies of the Chesapeake Bay and the Baltic Sea. The aim was to identify avenues for reducing the cost of meeting water quality objectives. The very different political and institutional histories of the jurisdictions within the respective watersheds provide both contrasts and similarities. The six U.S. States in the Chesapeake watershed have a common political history and operate under Federal environmental law. The Baltic watershed is made up of 14 nations whose intergovernmental relations are strongly influenced by Cold War legacies. Yet current policies in both watersheds rely heavily on voluntary approaches to control agricultural runoff.

Arkansas Conservation Partners Have a Big Impact in the St. Francis River Watershed

The St. Francis River in Missouri and Arkansas has suffered for years from turbidity, or cloudy water caused by runoff of sediment, but thanks to the dedication of government and non-government groups as well as farmers, the river’s water quality is improving.

Two segments in Arkansas were listed in 2006 as an impaired waterway under the Clean Water Act because of poor water quality. But in 2014, following years of focused conservation work, the two segments were removed from the impaired waterway list because water quality had greatly improved.

Rocky Mountain Wetland Provides Fen-tastic Habitat for High Altitude Plants, Wildlife

Sloshing through a wet meadow in ankle deep water, I am surrounded by thick mats of sedges, rushes and some beautiful wildflowers. This saturated meadow lies in the shadows of the 13,000-foot Sheep Mountain peak near Trout Lake, Colorado. It is a scenic spot, rich in plant diversity, but also a unique habitat in Colorado.

I am visiting this lush, high-altitude wetland with the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests’ lead hydrologist, Gary Shellhorn who explains that this wet meadow is called a fen. Fens are peat-forming wetlands, created when wetland plants die leaving mats of dead and decaying plant matter. Fens are sustained by mineral-enriched groundwater, which is less acidic.  For this reason fens support a more diverse plant and animal community. In southern Colorado, it takes about 2,000 years to accumulate eight inches of peat at a fen. This suggests that most fens are 4,000 to 10,000 years old.

Nature High Summer Camp Connects Young People, Natural Resource Professionals

In a few short years, high school students at Nature High Summer Camp on the Manti-LaSal National Forest in Utah may become newly minted natural resource professionals who make a difference in the world of natural resources.

The 30 high-school students from Utah met as strangers on a Monday morning, but left Saturday as good friends who connected with nature in a way they had never before experienced.

“It’s amazing to see the changes in the students over the course of a week,” said Sierra Hellstrom, camp director who works in the U.S. Forest Service’s Intermountain Region. “They arrive shy and scared, with little knowledge of public land management. They leave enlightened and a very tight-knit group, and have a hard time saying goodbye to one another.”

Conservation Tour Showcases an Awe-Inspiring Partnership

A recent tour in Livingston, Ill. showcased the successes a powerful partnership has had in the Indian Creek Watershed.

The 6th Annual Conservation in Action Tour was organized by the Conservation Technology Information Center to highlight community efforts in the watershed taking place under the auspices of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Mississippi River Basin Healthy Watershed Initiative.

Through the initiative, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and partners work with landowners and farmers to address nutrient loading in priority small watersheds within the Mississippi River Basin. Program participants implement voluntary conservation practices that improve water quality, restore wetlands and enhance wildlife habitat while allowing them to sustain or improve agricultural productivity. Illinois is one of the 13 states included in the initiative.