HOW DO WE ENSURE GOOD WATER QUALITY?

  • Minimize ground disturbance and properly site forest roads to prevent erosion into waterways 

  • Rigorously follow state Best Management Practices at a minimum – BMPs are practices that are implemented during forest activities to protect water quality and promote soil conservation

  • Create extra buffer protections for high-quality waters like native trout streams 

  • Protect important creek and streamside habitat for aquatic, amphibious, and terrestrial wildlife


WHAT IS WATER QUALITY AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

In forest management, preserving and improving high water quality is of the utmost importance.  Waters that flow from forested lands in the Appalachians are vital for fish, aquatic species, terrestrial wildlife, groundwater recharge, recreation, and provide clean drinking water to many people. Minimization of any ground disturbing activity, especially near any surface water, is key to conserving water quality since soil and water conservation are closely linked. 

Good forestry aims to protect and improve water quality for aquatic habitat and other important uses. Landowners should also conserve, protect, or enhance streamside and aquatic habitats to benefit the structure and essential filtering function of these important natural communities.  In the Appalachians, many of the diverse and rare aquatic and amphibian species are particularly vulnerable to negative effects on water quality and riparian areas because they rely on undisturbed waterways and adjacent land to complete their life cycles. 



HOW IS WATER QUALITY INFLUENCED BY FOREST MANAGEMENT?

The greatest threat to water quality is soil eroding into waterways; plain sediment can damage aquatic habitat and suffocate aquatic wildlife.  Also, eroded or compacted soil cannot absorb water as well as undisturbed ground and is much less productive in supporting plant and tree growth.  Therefore, when doing active management, carefully plan forest road or trail layout and landing or loading areas to minimize any ground disturbance to conserve water quality, particularly in moist areas.  Stream crossings should be avoided if possible or designed carefully if needed to minimally impact water quality. Properly maintain and stabilize all temporary roads and disturbed areas as soon as possible to help prevent erosion. 

Increased sediment and nutrient loads can affect stream quality and temperature, which negatively impacts habitat for aquatic life such as trout and salamanders.  Maintaining minimally disturbed buffers, or streamside management zones (SMZs), around all streams is essential to protecting water quality. All the above factors can heavily impact long term water quality and soil stability.  

 

WHAT CAN PRIVATE LANDOWNERS DO TO ADVANCE WATER QUALITY CONSERVATION?

All states in the project area have detailed guidance on forestry best management practices (BMPs) to protect water quality, which should be rigorously followed as minimumrecommendations. The state BMPs must be followed to ensure compliance with state forestry policies and help avoid liability from negative impacts on water quality.  These include standards on stream buffers, road construction, and stream crossings. They also include recommendations to widen stream buffers on long and/or steep slopes, more erodible soils, areas of disturbance, and special waterbodies (e.g., trout streams, drinking water supply).    Wider SMZs also benefit various species of aquatic and terrestrial wildlife by providing a larger essential habitat corridor.

Old, poorly planned, or unmaintained roads can be retired and stabilized to stop them from eroding and enhance water quality.  For any new ground disturbance (e.g., road building or re-opening) the intention is to keep soil erosion to an absolute minimum, but limited erosion might be unavoidable depending on circumstances (e.g., heavy rain).  Soil compaction from equipment is also possible, although impact should be minimal if BMPs are followed properly.

Maintaining SMZs and following state BMPs is theminimum recommendation.  While BMPs vary from state to state, they are similar and often involve a 50-ft minimum buffer to any surface water, with a 50% maximum canopy harvest in the SMZ buffer.  Harvesting in the SMZ must minimize ground disturbance and protect the stream banks. Harvesting in the SMZ can be done manually and winched out by cable so that no machinery operates in the stream buffer. 

When selecting trees for harvest in riparian areas, consider retaining those that provide habitat structure, stream shade, and soil stability.  In addition to minimizing ground disturbance and establishing SMZs, it is also recommended to restore areas of soil disturbance by reseeding, scattering unused tops and branches (called “slash”) to protect soil and limit erosion, and work closely with loggers to carefully monitor all stages of harvest activity, especially near water or during wet conditions. BMPs are the minimum requirement; however, they should be exceeded and the SMZ should be wider under the following circumstances:

  • Rare, threatened, and endangered species are present (particularly aquatic and semiaquatic wildlife and plant species).

  • The stream is considered high quality water (HQW) by the state.  Examples of HQWs include trout waters, which are particularly vulnerable to negative impacts, or water that is used as a source of drinking water.  (See more on HQWs below).

  • The landowner’s goals are more conservation oriented (i.e., conserving water quality and wildlife habitat outranks timber income).  Wider buffers provide extra protection for water quality during heavy rains or floods. Also, many amphibian, aquatic, bird, and terrestrial species benefit from larger riparian corridors.

Most landowners will not have streams or other water bodies considered HQWs, but recommendations for HQWs will often exceed state BMPs.  The minimum recommended SMZ on state recognized HQWs should follow the Forest Stewardship Council’s (FSC) stricter SMZ guidelines: a minimum 80-ft buffer on each side that is wider depending on the slope, with a 25-ft inner buffer where only hazard trees can be removed.   In the outer buffer (55-ft) up to 50% of the canopy can be harvested. 

Water quality rankings for each body of water are maintained by states, and these maps and databases should be queried to identify which water bodies are recognized as high quality water worthy of more protection by the state.  Trout streams and drinking water supply are just two examples of high quality waters.