Water Quality Management

A Precious Resource

Stewardship of water has been a key part of the Forest Service mission for over 100 years.

Water Facts

The National Forests of the Pacific Southwest Region play a crucial role in providing California's water.

California, with its Mediterranean climate, large population, and extensive agriculture, depends heavily on management of its water resources. All major metropolitan areas rely on water imported from distant watersheds, primarily on National Forest System lands. The State's water system is currently under stress owing to increased demand, drought, restrictions on pumping, and limited funding available for infrastructure. In the future, the effects of climate change are likely to further stress California's water system.

Stewardship of water has been a key part of the Forest Service mission for over 100 years.

The Organic Act of 1897 that created the original forest reserves established two purposes for the reserves: a sustainable supply of timber, and "favorable conditions of water flow."

The Transfer Act of 1905 that created the Forest Service as an agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture charged the new Service with ensuring that water from the forests would be available to downstream users.

Importance of National Forests in California Water Supply

National forests in California comprise about 20 percent of the area of the state, but owing to their location in mountainous headwaters, they provide almost half of the State's surface water. Annual national forest water yields range from 0.1 million acre-feet (maf) in the arid southern California forests to 5 maf in the rainy northwest. One acre-foot is roughly the amount of water needed to provide the annual domestic needs of two typical families. Learn more in this website about Nature's Benefits: Water.  

Water Quality on National Forests

Several recent independent studies have shown that in general, waters on the National Forests of California are of high quality and provide beneficial uses. However, many activities on National Forest System lands have potential to affect water quality, and the Region is working with the state water-quality regulatory agency to improve its water quality management program. Many streams on National Forest System lands have been listed as impaired by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Region and National Forests are working with the appropriate Regional Water Quality Control Boards to implement Total Maximum Daily Loads to control non-point source pollution.

California currently has only two designated Outstanding National Resource Waters: Lake Tahoe and Mono Lake. Both lakes are primarily within National Forest boundaries, and both are listed as impaired.

Below are two stories highlighting the importance of watershed and meadow restoration.

  • Partnerships, Volunteers Help Wetland Restoration

    The Inyo National Forest, working with partner agencies and volunteers, has restored water flow to the DeChambeau Ponds, in what is a “win for the Mono Basin.”

  • RESTORE Episode 23: Meadows Restoration, Sierra Nevada

    Highlighting the importance of restoring mountain meadow function to improve conditions for water, wildlife, and people.