Forests are Essential to a Safe and Clean Water Supply

Forests produce clean water for 180 million Americans. Not only do our forests improve water quality through canopy interception, but they help water to soak into the soil, and serve as natural filters to protect our streams, rivers, and lakes.

However, the benefit works both ways. Trees — like humans — are made up of majority water and need a steady source of it to grow and stay healthy. A single mature oak can consume (transpire) over 40,000 gallons of water in a year! So it is clear that forests and water must work together to thrive.

Humans need water and trees to flourish in tandem, too. American Forests points to trees as a solution to many of our water-related challenges.

Forests help keep pollutants out of streams and reduce damage from floods by slowing and storing rain.

Evapotranspiration, the movement of water from the ground, through trees and leaves and back to the environment, allows for clouds to form and significant precipitation to fall. It also serves to cool hot summer swelter.

Riparian, or streamside, forest buffers address many problems affecting water quality, ecosystems, and flooding. Planting and maintaining woody vegetation along streams provides a wealth of benefits, including filtering sediment, removing nitrogen and phosphorous leaching from adjacent agricultural land uses, providing stability to the bank through a wood root system, shading and modifying stream temperatures, and even reducing stream velocity. The shade they provide even plays a vital role in the life cycle of some fish!

Strategic forest restoration is a worthwhile investment and can save taxpayers money as well. While filtering runoff and reducing erosion, it can lower costs to treat drinking water and deter harm from storm events.

To these ends, American Forests continues to work with partners like the PUR project, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, local conservation districts, and even private landowners to plant trees along streams and waterways. Our projects provide flood protection to surrounding communities and reduce runoff from storm events by nearly 1 billion liters. We also focus on reforesting areas that are important sources of drinking water to places like California’s Bay Area, south Texas, and northeast Florida.

There is no substitute for safe, clean water, and there is little we can do to save the earth’s supply. Little, that is, except plant a tree.