Research Confirms the Value of Forests in Saving Money for Water Systems
Appreciating the economic value of intact forests helps water suppliers make better decisions about protecting their watersheds. US Forest Service scientists working with the American Water Works Association (AWWA) have quantified the relationship between forest cover and treatment costs.
AWWA surveyed 37 member utilities in highly forested regions of the United States that depend on surface water for most of their water supply. For each of the utilities in the dataset, the team mapped the watershed that delivers their raw water and measured land use characteristics such as forest cover, development and agricultural activities in the watershed.
The study found increasing forest cover is associated with lower levels of sediment at water intakes, while development and grazing are both associated with higher levels of sediment at water intakes. These findings are consistent with others in the literature that argue that one of the primary roles of forests and protected lands is to limit the presence of other land uses associated with poorer water quality. These improvements in water quality lead to real benefits to water users, such as reduced treatment costs.
Results of the study, “Effect of forest cover on water treatment costs,” were published in the journal Water Economics and Policy in 2017.