Water – A Prime Reason for the Establishment of National Forests


Boise NF - Water Flowing over a Culvert


"We never know the worth of water till the well is dry"

Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia, 1732


Watch a Video:  The Boise River:  From Snow to River to You


Water is the most important and likely the most valuable natural resource flowing from our national forests.  Our forests are the water towers – the largest and most reliable source of clean water in the western United States.  Forests are also home to unique and vital stream, lake and wetland habitats. 

Forest watersheds are more crucial than ever. Population growth puts more demand on water supply and climate change and forest fires make the quantity and quality of that supply less certain.  Restoring forest headwaters is becoming just as vital as urban water conservation and new storage projects in our era of climate change and population growth.Watershed restoration projects can make our forest watersheds whole again to fulfill their role as nature’s sponge.    

The Boise National Forest strives to protect watersheds to provide a clean and sustainable water supply to various communities. On average 1.6 million acre feet of water flows down the Boise River and most of that water comes from the Boise National Forest, this is equal to more than 521 billion gallons of water (1 acre-foot =325,851 gallons). According to the Bureau of Reclamation, most of this water is used for irrigation.

A 2000 Forest Service study estimates the population of the West will increase more than 300 percent by 2040. The expected population surge in the West in increasing the diversion and consumption use of water and at the same time demand for water-based recreation.


Protecting Your Watersheds and Aquatic Habitats

In 2003, the Boise National Forest teamed up with the Payette and Sawtooth National Forests in the Southwest Idaho Ecogroup to revise their forest plans together.   The purpose of a forest plan is to guide natural resource management activities.  It describes management goals and objectives, resource protection methods, desired resource conditions and the availability and suitability of lands for resource management. 

Included in the forest plan is the Aquatic Conservation Strategy (ACS).  It provides a scientific direction to maintain and restore characteristics of healthy, functioning watersheds, riparian areas, and associated fish habitats by:

  • providing for a comprehensive short and long-term recovery of listed fish species
  • restoration of aquatic habitats and surrounding terrestrial uplands
  • planning for sustainable resource management 

This strategy integrates many of the goals and objectives of both the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act.

The components of the ACS all help to maintain and restore the productivity and resilience of watersheds and their associated aquatic systems.  

The forest has completed several restoration projects to meet the goals of the ACS. 


Water Awareness Day

Water Awareness Day teaches fifth grade students the importance of water quality for both human and environmental well-being.  This event is in partnership with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and Idaho Department of Fish and Game.  It travels to several schools with the goal to increase awareness of how human actions can affect water quality.  Teachers interested in this program can contact the Boise National Forest at 373-4100.


Boise NF - Johnson Creek

Water Isn’t Just for Drinking

Water isn’t only important for drinking, it’s also important for recreation. The Boise National Forest offers over 7,600 miles of streams and rivers and more than 250 lakes and reservoirs that beckon water sports enthusiasts to raft, kayak, sail, and water ski. Spring and summer brings an abundance of rafters and kayakers to the Payette and Boise Rivers.  Check out on the Recreation web page where to find recreation areas with water nearby. 


Forest’s Role in Providing Clean Water

A recent National Research Council report indicates management of forests for sustainable clean water supply may be more important than any other environmental service that forests provide. The report states that forests provide natural filtration and storage systems that process nearly two-thirds of the water supply in the United States.  This report can be found at http://dels.nas.edu/resources/static-assets/materials-based-on-reports/reports-in-brief/forest_hydrology_final.pdf

How do forests provide clean drinking water?   Healthy forests help keep streams clean and water quality high by promoting soils that provide natural filtration and vegetative cover that minimizes soil erosion and sediment runoff. Most of Idaho’s municipal water systems use water that originates from forestlands, including those managed for wood production.This document explains the water cycle from our national forests to your kitchen faucet. http://www.idahoforests.org/img/pdf/ForestDrinkingWater.pdf




   5-4 Measuring Snow Depths in Boise NF  


Boise NF Snowpack

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service measures the snowpack at Mores Creek Summit near Idaho City. Below is the data collected. To read the current full report visit:   http://www.id.nrcs.usda.gov/snow/

Mores Creek Summit, elevation 6,100 feet


Water Hotlinks:

City of Boise:  http://bee.cityofboise.org/WaterShed/Home/index.aspx

 Idaho Forest Products Commission:  http://idahoforests.org/

Idaho Conservation League - Celebrate Water With Us

 Articles about how Forests affect drinking water and the roll trees play in water quality.

How Do Forests Affect Our Drinking Water

Water & Forests - The Roll Trees Play in Water Quality