What do forests have to do with our drinking water?

Most of Oregon’s municipal water originates in forested watersheds, including those managed for wood production.

As rain or snowmelt soaks into healthy forest soils, it is naturally filtered and, over time, is released to nearby streams or groundwater aquifers. Oregon’s forest protection laws require protecting both water and soil during timber harvest and other forest management activities.

How do forest operators protect our drinking water?

Stream buffers. Forest operators leave buffers of trees and vegetation around streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands where fish live, or those that are sources of drinking water. Within these buffers, harvesting is either prohibited or severely restricted. These buffers, left on both sides of a stream, are between 20 and 70 feet, depending on the width of the stream. The use of forest herbicides is also restricted near water supplies.

“Light touch” logging systems. Over the past few decades, logging practices have been revolutionized in ways that prevent disrupting, exposing or compacting forest soil. Skyline logging systems, for instance, suspend logs above the ground when they’re moved from where they’re cut to where they‘ll be loaded on trucks.

High-quality forest roads. Forest roads can be a major source of muddy water in a forest. A properly designed, built and maintained forest road diverts rainwater from the road onto the forest floor, where it can be absorbed and filtered before flowing into a stream. Well-engineered and properly located forest roads and stream crossings reduce effects on water quality.

"In the past, logging practices didn’t account for such things as water quality. But today we have a large body of research that helps us understand the effects of our activities and also guides us in how we can minimize those effects."
Bonny Hammons District hydrologist, Willamette National Forest
A Day in the Woods: Drinking water protection

Two extension foresters explain water quality protection in Oregon’s working forests

Video
A Day in the Woods: Drinking water protection

Two extension foresters explain water quality protection in Oregon’s working forests