Forest thinning would yield additional water, study says

Not only does forest thinning provide economic benefits to rural communities and reduce the amount of vegetative fuels for fires on public and private lands, but it yields another important benefit, as well: more water.

This article was previously published by California Farm Bureau Federation in Ag Alert on April 13, 2011. Thanks, Farm Bureau!

As the state looks for ways to meet ever-increasing water demands for a growing population and environmental needs, a representative from the California Forestry Association says the state should consider how much water is being transpired through the overly dense national forests of the Sierra Nevada.

California could have plentiful, quality water in the form of groundwater recharge and runoff if its public forests were well managed and restored to a healthy condition, said Steve Brink, vice president of public resources for the trade association, whose members include forest landowners and businesses that make forest products.

Brink made his remarks during the California Farm Bureau Federation 2011 Leaders Conference.

He said with properly managed forests and active forest thinning, not only will the state significantly reduce wildfires by 22 percent to 60 percent and have healthy watersheds that minimize sediment production, but it could also get back 1 million to 3 million acre-feet or more of additional water annually.

“So how much water is that? It’s the storage capacity of Lake Oroville,” he said, noting that the reservoir contains more than 3.3 million acre-feet of water. “You could almost fill up the equivalent of Lake Oroville if our national forests were managed.”

More than half of California’s water originates in the watersheds of its national forests, much of it in the Sierra Nevada. But lack of forest management and too much vegetation has contributed to reduced water flows in the state’s watersheds, particularly during dry years, he said.

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