Participants at the 2012 RVCC annual policy meeting in Vancouver, WA. (Credit: Sustainable Northwest)

Did you know that more than 50 percent of our freshwater supply originates from forests? Trees act as a natural filter as rain lands and passes through the ground into underground aquifers. Last week, I learned a lot about watershed health at the Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition (RVCC) annual policy meeting in Vancouver, Washington. While there were a lot of topics to cover over the span of the three-day meeting, one of the top issues that kept coming up was watershed health and restoration. So what is being done to make sure our water is clean?

For the first time ever, the USDA Forest Service is developing a National Water Strategy comprised of several watershed restoration programs. The biggest component to the new strategy is called the Watershed Condition Framework (WCF), which provides a “comprehensive, long-term program to restore watershed health, riparian ecosystems, fish habitats and soil productivity” (Ziemer 1997). At the RVCC meeting, I learned about the six-step WCF process to restore watershed health from Forest Service experts:

  • Step A: Classify the condition of all 6th-level watersheds (a smaller sub-section of a watershed) in the national forest by using existing data layers, local knowledge, and professional judgment.
  • Step B: Prioritize watersheds for restoration: establish a small set of selected watersheds for targeted improvement equivalent to a 5-year program of work.
  • Step C: Develop watershed restoration action plans that identify comprehensive project-level improvement activities.
  • Step D: Implement integrated suites of projects in select watersheds.
  • Step E: Track restoration accomplishments for performance accountability.
  • Step F: Verify accomplishment of project activities and monitor improvement of watershed and stream conditions.

Other groups are working on water quality issues as well. Organizations like Charity: Water, and the Clean Water America Alliance are working to get safe drinking water to communities in need. Here at American Forests, we work on watershed health and protection through our Global ReLeaf tree planting projects and as a member of the Clean Water Network (CWN), a national coalition that advocates for the restoration of our clean-water sources: forests, wetlands and watersheds.

Water has an impact on every aspect of our lives. Watershed and water-quality issues are something that everyone, whether you live in a city, town or the country, has a stake in. We depend on clean water to live, and it is an essential element for both environmental and human health. That’s why when we work to improve water quality, it’s important to look at the root of the issue.