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Goal: Deliver Benefits to the Public Quantifying the role of state and private forest lands in providing surface drinking water supply for the southern U.S.

Director’s Choice
Throughout the Southern Region, many streams receive the majority of water from state and private forest lands (SPF). The image shows what proportion of streamflow is from SPF. (Forest Service image)


Forested land owned by states or private and family owners makes up about 44 percent of the total land area in the South. This study highlights the connection between state and private forests (SPF) and the drinking water supply in the South. The study reveals that SPF lands contributed more than 44 percent of the water supply generated in the region.


Forests provide the most stable and highest quality water supplies among all land uses. The southern U.S. is heavily forested and the fastest growing region in the nation. Therefore, it is critical to understand the role of forested lands in providing water across the South. Approximately 55 million people in the South—about half the population—derive some portion of their drinking water from SPF lands.

This study provides a systematic assessment of the interactions among water, forests, and people. Findings highlight the connections between SPF lands, water supply in the South, and the need for sound forest management to ensure clean and stable water supplies for southern communities now and in the future. In addition to peer-reviewed publications, the researchers produced a collection of ArcGIS Story Maps with the South Carolina Forestry Commission. The collection includes interactive maps, data tables, and videos for each of the 13 states and across the South.

The goal is to provide resource managers with information needed to show the important role state and private forest lands play in provisioning drinking water for southerners. Because of the innumerable water-related benefits of forest lands, many water supply authorities seek to maintain forest lands in their watersheds. Healthy forested watersheds protect drinking water quality and minimize water treatment costs.

Principal Investigators
Ning Liu, ORISE Fellow Hydrologist
Peter V. Caldwell, Research Hydrologist
Chelcy F. Miniat, Project Leader
Ge Sun, Research Hydrologist
4353 - Center for Forest Watershed Research
Strategic Program Area
Water, Air, and Soil
Quantifying the role of State and private forest lands in providing surface drinking water supply for the Southern United States
CompassLive Article
Water Supply from Southern State and Private Forest Lands
Research Partner
G. Rebecca Dobbs - SRS
External Partners
Paul V. Bolstad - University of Minnesota, College of Natural Resources, Department of Forest Resources
Stacy Nelson - North Carolina State University, College of Natural Resources, Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, Center for Geospatial Analytics