Forest Service tool spotlights connection between forests and water

Image forest reflecting in water
Photo by Juan Davila on Unsplash

Mar 23, 2022

Have you ever wondered where exactly your drinking water comes from? To help land managers and the public understand where their water comes from and what affects it, the USDA Forest Service launched an interactive map called Forests to Faucets 2.0. The map shows that forests are a critical link in providing dependable drinking water across the country.

The interactive map, also called a Story Map, is designed to increase public and land manager understanding of the relationship between forests and water quality. The map visualizes the role forests have in supplying drinking water across the country. It can help forestry professionals, watershed groups, educators, and others see how forests help protect water supply and quality.

“Across the eastern United States, public and private forest land is critical for water management, from providing clean water through natural filtration, reducing erosion and flooding, and sustaining life and well-being,” said Eastern Region Deputy Regional Forester Bob Lueckel. “Forests to Faucets is a powerful yet user-friendly tool that reveals the direct link between healthy forests and clean water. It can assist communities and private landowners in determining where best conservation practices are needed to sustain the many benefits clean water provides,” Lueckel added.

Forests to Faucets 2.0 features a layered, interactive map that shows how some watersheds are more important than others for drinking water. The maps depict threats to water sources, including insects and diseases, land use changes, future decrease in water yields, and wildfire potential.

“The map shows that we are all watershed managers—it connects our water supply to the landscapes that surround us, in natural and built environments,” said Erika Mack, lead author of the technical report underlying the story map.

The map is useful for anyone interested in the country’s watersheds and drinking water. Businesses, organizations, and landowners can use the application to identify reliable sources of water, have more information available for planning, and develop grant applications for activities like water conservation and tree planting. The data can also be used for teaching and learning in geography, environmental studies, biology, hydrology, and other disciplines.

First launched 10 years ago, this enhanced version of Forests to Faucets adds to the original data — including climate change impacts — and improves the user experience. Researchers and staff from the Forest Service’s Eastern Region, Southern Research Station, and the Washington Office developed the Story Map and supporting technical report.