News Release

Forest Service Chief: new directive improves agency’s role in assessing water resources

Proposed directive would not change the existing authority of the states to allocate water

September 10, 2014 -

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell outlined the role of the agency’s draft internal groundwater directive today in testimony before the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy and Forestry.

“Water on national forest system (NFS) lands is important for many reasons, including resource stewardship, domestic use and public recreation.  Our goals for the proposed directive are to improve the quality and consistency of our approach to understanding groundwater resources on NFS lands, and to better incorporate consideration of those resources to inform agency decision-making,” said Chief Tidwell. “We appreciate the opportunity to share information about the proposed internal directive with the Subcommittee and receive feedback from Members.  We look forward to continuing to work with state, local and tribal governments and the public through the ongoing public comment period.”

On May 6, 2014, the Forest Service published for public comment a proposed directive on groundwater that will help the Agency to establish a more consistent approach to evaluating and monitoring the effects on groundwater from actions on National Forest System (NFS) lands. The proposed directive does not specifically authorize or prohibit any uses, and is not an expansion of authority.  Rather, it provides a framework that would allow the Forest Service to clarify existing policy and better meet existing requirements in a more consistent way across the NFS.  Specifically, it would:

  • Create a more consistent approach for gathering information about groundwater systems that influence and are influenced by surface uses on NFS land and for evaluating the potential effects on groundwater resources of proposed activities and uses on NFS lands;
  • Bolster the ability of Forest Service land managers to make informed and legally defensible decisions, with a more complete understanding of the potential impacts for activities on NFS lands to and from groundwater;
  • Support management and authorization of various multiple uses by better allowing the Forest Service to meet its statutory responsibility to fully analyze and disclose the potential impacts of uses or activities; and
  • Emphasize cooperation with State, Tribal and local agencies and compliance with their applicable requirements.

Water from national forests and grasslands contributes to the economic and ecological vitality of rural and urban communities across the nation, and those lands supply more than 60 million Americans with clean drinking water.  NFS lands alone provide 18 percent of the nation’s freshwater, and over half the fresh water in the Western United States. Groundwater plays a critical role in providing that fresh water, serving as a reservoir supplying cold, clean water to springs, streams and wetlands, as well as water for human uses.

The Forest Service continues to respect state authorities for water management, and the groundwater directive does not impose new restrictions on mineral or oil and gas development.  The proposed directive does not change the existing authority of the states to allocate water, and has no bearing on state law presumptions for purpose of use allocation.

For more information about the proposed directive, watch a recording of a webinar hosted in May. Public comments may be submitted until October 3, 2014.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency also has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.