The impact of privately owned forests on the quality and quantity of Georgia’s drinking water is remarkable, and well understood within the forestry community. However, it is unlikely that the state’s citizens and leaders often make the connection between a glass of clean drinking water and Georgia’s forests.
Next month, a group of water infrastructure professionals, forest landowners and managers, and policy makers will gather in Savannah to focus on the relationship between healthy private working forests and the quality and cost of drinking water. The Georgia Forests and Drinking Water Forum will be held on Nov. 17 and 18 and is being spearheaded by the U. S. Endowment for Forests and Communities and the U.S. Forest Service. The forum also has attracted a broad array of sponsors, among them the City of Augusta, City of Savannah, Georgia Association of Water Professionals, Georgia Forestry Association, Georgia Municipal Association, Georgia Rural Water Association, Georgia Soil & Water Conservation Commission, and Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources.
“The forestry community is continually telling the story of the benefits of working forests to the environment and to the citizens of this state,” GFA President Steve McWilliams said. “This forum will better clarify the critical role that healthy, well-managed public and private forests play for the future of our drinking water supplies.”
According to the U.S. Forest Service, forests provide clean water for 180 million Americans – nearly two out of every three people in the country. Since Georgia’s land area is two-thirds forest, owned largely by thousands of private landowners, the extent to which forests furnish reliable clean water to the state is critically important. This forum will provide a breakthrough opportunity to ensure that the value of Georgia’s forestland is understood and appreciated.
Among the topics to be discussed during the forum are the values of healthy forest cover and current basin planning efforts in the state. The Endowment’s Senior Vice President Peter Stangel will address the connection between healthy forested watersheds and water quality and water costs.
“The forestry and water communities are closely linked, but don’t necessarily understand each other’s needs,” Stangel said. “The forum, which is one of many planned for the South, is the first attempt to bring the groups together to talk about shared interests and mutual goals. Ultimately, both communities will benefit from a closer working relationship.”
Attendance is limited to a select group whose interest in forests and water – and the public policy related to that water – make them ideal candidates to engage in this discussion. Organizers are hopeful that the forum will result in closer working relationships between local governments and the private landowner community, and that it will encourage collaborative efforts between local water systems and forest owners in their watersheds.
McWilliams expects the conversation will turn to the potential for payment to landowners for the watershed protection their services provide.
“Nothing is better for watershed health in Georgia than private working forests” he said. “Maybe it’s time that well managed private forests are compensated for their entire value to the people of Georgia.”
Similar forums are currently being planned for Texas, Arkansas and Kentucky. If you would like more information on this initiative, contact Steve McWilliams at 478-992-8110. For more information on the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, visit http://www.usendowment.org/.