GROUNDWATER AND ECOSYSTEM SERVICES AND THE NATIONAL FORESTS AND GRASSLANDS
The USDA Forest Service (FS) was established in 1905 to manage publically-owned forests, in part to preserve “favorable conditions of water flows.” The forest reserves have grown to over 193 million acres of National Forests and Grasslands (“NFS lands”) in 42 states and Puerto Rico. Forested lands contribute more than half of the US water supply from less than ¨÷ of the land area; NFS lands, in particular, contribute about 18%, serving about 60 million people in 3400 communities. In the western US, NFS lands contribute more than half of the water supply. In 2004, the value of the water flowing from NFS lands was estimated at $7.2 billion/year.
The FS groundwater program recognizes and manages groundwater-dependent ecosystems (GDEs). GDEs, including springs, seeps, wetlands, and many rivers and lakes, are located in every US ecoregion and support a diversity of species, including some rare biota, and habitats serving as critical refugia during climatic extremes. GDEs provide key services to society, such as water for drinking, agriculture and industry, support for fisheries and production of specialty commodities. The FS with The Nature Conservancy (TNC), has published two field guides to inventory and monitor GDEs, currently used to improve the agency’s understanding of the distribution and condition of these resources. In addition, TNC and the FS are developing a systematic methodology to identify water needs of GDEs called Environmental Flows and Levels, so they can be comprehensively addressed in the agency’s decisions.