Sixty-five leaders from the forestry and drinking water sectors gathered in Savannah on Nov. 17 and 18 for the first Georgia Forests and Drinking Water Forum to explore the connections between forests and drinking water and how the two sectors could work together to sustain Georgia’s forest and water resources.
Forum participants included family farm landowners, timber management companies, drinking water utility professionals, and forestry and drinking water organization leaders. The Forum was spearheaded by the U. S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities and the U.S. Forest Service. Event sponsors included 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, Georgia Sustainable Forestry Initiative Implementation Committee and the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry & Natural Resources.
The goals of the Forum were to:
- Share information about the strong connection between forests and drinking water
- Discuss the challenges and day-to-day operations of the forestry and drinking water sectors
- Provide local examples of collaboration between forestry and drinking water
- Have fruitful discussions about the nature of the forestry and drinking water connection in Georgia
- Develop a brief list of short-term actions to continue the momentum from the Forum
The Forum was organized into three themes, each followed by a group facilitated discussion:
- The Forest and Water Connection
- Drinking Water and Forestry Overview
- Watershed Protection Incentives and Funding
The Forest and Water Connection theme centered around brief presentations on the connections between forests and drinking water by Peter Stangel of the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities; exploring the connection between forests and water and human health by Professor Graeme Lockaby of Auburn University; and the dependence of communities on forest lands by Peter Caldwell of the U.S. Forest Service.
The Drinking Water and Forestry Overview theme shared a brief summary of Georgia basin planning from Russ Pennington of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division; an overview of the regulatory requirements, operations and challenges facing drinking water utilities by Allen Saxon of City of Augusta Utilities; and an overview of the forestry sector’s regulatory framework and operational challenges by Todd Rasmussen of University of Georgia’s Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources and John Colberg of the Georgia Forestry Commission.
The Watershed Protection Incentives and Funding theme provided an overview of Georgia’s Forest Land Protection Tax Incentive Program by Steve McWilliams of the Georgia Forestry Association; information about a forestry and drinking water collaborative pilot project by John Pennington of the Beaver Lake Watershed Alliance in Arkansas; and two watershed funding presentations provided by Sheryl Parsons of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Kitty Weisman, a consultant with U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities.
Through productive discussion, participants agreed to the following future actions to continue the momentum of the Forum:
- Consider hosting a similar forum in Southwest Georgia, in the Flint watershed which is shared between Georgia and Alabama;
- Continue to share information by having some kind of regular communication between the forestry and drinking water sectors (such as a newsletter, email, or regular meeting);
- Conduct additional scientific research into the connection between forestry and groundwater;
- Seek better data about the relative contributions of naturally occurring contaminants versus human-caused contaminants in drinking water;
- Explore ways to increase green spaces for source water protection in urban watersheds;
- Research and share information about forestry-drinking water collaborative pilot projects and case studies (such as the City of Columbus drinking water utility relationship with Georgia Power);
- Strengthen existing education and outreach programs and materials and create new ones to highlight the connection between forestry and drinking water (including speaking at relevant meetings and conferences, sharing information with the public, publishing articles in key newsletters and magazines, etc.);
- Conduct additional research on the effectiveness of forestry Best Management Practices specifically as they relate to drinking water resources;
- Seek voluntary cooperation of forest landowners to strengthen drinking water source protection (rather than imposing additional regulations or forcing cooperation);
- Conduct geographic information systems (GIS) mapping data analysis to determine priority watersheds for collaborative forestry-drinking water projects;
“These actions will take time to implement, possibly several years,” GFA President Steve McWilliams said. “However, the discussions and outcomes from this forum will undoubtedly benefit Georgia’s forests and the communities that depend on them.”
The U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities and the U.S. Forest Service each provided funding organize Forestry and Drinking Water Forums in five southeastern states: Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Texas. Learn more about the partnership.