Looking for Water in the Woods: Quantifying the Potential for Forest Management to Increase Regional Water Yield

Friday, 19 December 2014: 9:45 AM
Subodh Acharya1, David A Kaplan2, Daniel L Mclaughlin1,3 and Matthew J Cohen1, (1)University of Florida - UF, School of Forest Resources and Conservation, Gainesville, FL, United States, (2)University of Florida - UF, Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure & Environment, Gainesville, FL, United States, (3)Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, Blacksburg, VA, United States
Water scarcity presents a crucial challenge for water resource managers charged with maintaining hydrologic resources for domestic, industrial, and agricultural use while protecting natural systems. Forest lands are critical to the functioning of the hydrologic cycle in many watersheds, affecting the quantity, quality, and timing of water delivered to surface and groundwater systems. While the hydrologic impacts of forest growth and removal have been shown to be substantial in watersheds around the globe, data and models connecting forest management to water use and regional hydrology are generally lacking. We propose that water-focused forest management has the potential to deliver a “new” source of water to surface and groundwater resources. To test this hypothesis, we developed a statistical model of water yield in southeastern US pine stands as a function of forest stand structure and ecosystem water use. Model results suggest a potential increase in water yield of up to 64% for pine stands managed at lower basal areas relative to those managed according to standard silvicultural practices. At the watershed scale, the magnitude of this potential water yield enhancement is driven by existing land use and forest management; evaluated for a large watershed in NE Florida, this potential increase is in excess of 200 million gallons per day (equivalent to 20% of the anthropogenic water use in the watershed). While useful for exploration, our statistical model also highlighted critical sources of uncertainty, including the effects of climatic variation, between-site variability, water use in young pine stands, and prescribed fire. Thus, in ongoing work we are comparing the effects of specific land management actions (e.g., thinning, clearcutting, and fire) on water yield across a gradient of environmental conditions (soil type, aquifer confinement, and climate) using a novel combination of in-situ soil moisture and groundwater monitoring. These data are being used to derive management-water yield relationships to guide watershed-scale strategies for sustaining regional water resources in the southeastern US, which is facing projections of greater water scarcity driven both by a growing population and a warming climate.