Oregon’s forests provide more than a source of jobs and a place to play. They also act as a filter and storage area for clean water. Welcome to the world of watersheds.
What’s a Watershed?
A watershed is the area of land where all surface and groundwater drains into the same body of water, such as a river, wetland, or the ocean. Watersheds are not made of water, but of land. This means the boundaries of a watershed are determined by the shape of the land that surrounds them.
Water runs downstream, so mountains and ridges often form the boundaries of watersheds. Watersheds can be many millions of acres in size like the Columbia River Basin, or less than a dozen acres for a single small stream. No matter where you live in Oregon, your forest is part of a watershed.
Clean water is among life’s basic necessities. People expect water to be readily available, clean, and safe. Besides its use for drinking, good water quality is important for healthy fish and wildlife, fishing, boating, swimming, irrigation, power, municipal water systems and other downstream uses. Because it is a vital part of our lives, water quality is a social as well as an economic and environmental concern.
Healthy forests promote soils that provide natural filtration to keep streams clean and water quality high. As rain water reaches healthy forest soils, most is absorbed and, over time, is released to nearby streams or groundwater aquifers, filtering it in the process. If you live in rural Oregon, your water supply might even come from a stream located on your property! Furthermore, most of Oregon’s municipal water systems use water that originates from forestlands, including those forests managed for wood production. The quality of water from Oregon’s forests is among the best in the nation.
Natural disturbances in the forest environment such as flooding, landslides and fire can affect water quality. The same is true for human activities, including forest management. Timber harvest, thinning, reforestation, vegetation management, forest road construction and maintenance, and treatments to reduce fire risk all have the potential to affect water quality.
Under the Oregon Forest Practices Act (OFPA), the Oregon Department of Forestry is responsible for protecting water quality on state and private forestlands. Provisions in the OFPA are designed to protect water quality during road construction, timber harvest, herbicide application, and other forestry activities.
Watershed councils are locally organized, voluntary, non-regulatory groups established to improve the condition of watersheds in their local area. Watershed councils work on projects to restore or enhance the beneficial outputs of watersheds, from higher quality water to healthier populations of salmon to better habitat for flora and fauna along streams. Watershed councils are active across the entire state.
To learn about your watershed council and how you may partner with it for watershed improvement, be sure to find your local Watershed Council through the Network of Oregon Watershed Councils website.