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Water Facts

An image of a deer herd standing in a river

Water is one of the most important natural resources flowing from forests. National Forests and Grasslands are the largest source of fresh water in the U.S. under a single manager, with about 20 percent originating from 193 million acres of land.

Healthy forests are vital to clean and abundant supplies of water

  • Some 180 million people in over 68,000 communities rely on these forested lands to capture and filter their drinking water.

  • Forest Service lands are located in source areas for many important rivers as well as local and regional aquifer systems. They are the largest source of municipal water supply in the Nation, serving over 60 million people in 3,400 communities in 33 States.

  • Major U.S. cities that may seem distant from forests actually rely on water from agency lands. For example, Los Angeles, Portland, Denver, and Atlanta receive a significant portion of their water supply from national forests.

Water is an important commodity produced on National Forests System lands

  • Water on NFS lands provides, maintains, and supports other related ecological and societal services such as biological diversity; threatened and endangered species and habitats; spawning and rearing habitat for sport and commercial fish species; and agricultural irrigation, navigation, and flood control.

  • National forests and grasslands supply some of the highest quality surface waters in the country, yielding some of the best drinking water and industrial process water sources.

  • Close to 75 percent of the nation’s outdoor recreation takes place within one-half mile of streams or other water bodies. The 44 million sport fishing anglers purchase goods and services totaling roughly $4 billion annually.

  • The national forests and grasslands support more than 46 million fishing visits annually, generating over $2 billion in revenues, supporting about 51,000 jobs, and generating more than $264 million in Federal taxes.

  • Reservoirs located on agency lands provide recreational opportunities, flood control, energy generation for more than 18 million homes, and water storage capacity.

  • National Forest System watersheds support refugia for rare, endemic species and will play an ever increasing role as climate changes and wildlands are converted to other uses.

Image of 2 boats, one boat is boating and the other has people fishing off the back

The Forest Service provides sound research on water quality and quantity

  • Long-term research studies conducted by the Forest Service have provided much of the current understanding of watershed processes in forests and grasslands both here in the United States and around the world.

  • Forest Service research and development provides scientific data to distinguish healthy from degraded watersheds and the technical tools for restoring these watersheds.

  • Recent Forest Service research is helping the agency understand the dynamics of natural disturbance, which is helping restore and maintain aquatic habitats and the fish that rely on those habitats. Collaborative research with other agencies is increasing our ability to measure and model snowpack distributions in the forests, which leads to improved forecasting of water supply. Improved forecasting makes it possible to more carefully operate dams to optimize tradeoffs between flood risks and water availability during dry seasons.

Graphic: National forests are the single most important source of water in the U.S. These lands are the source of drinking water to over 60 million Americans in 3,400 communities, including large cities.