National Forest Service Makes Changes to Protect Water Resources

ForestOn May 2, the National Forest Service (NFS) announced that it will use best management practices (BMPs) to improve and protect water quality on national forests and grasslands, an action it calls an integral component of watershed stewardship and land management.

NFS is proposing amendments to its internal Manual for Water Quality Management, establishing a National Best Management Practices Program Handbook. Proposed changes would include:

  • formalizing the National BMP  Program as the primary method for control of nonpoint sources of water pollution to achieve federal, state, tribal or local water quality requirements;
  • requiring implementation of the National BMP Program on all NFS land;
  • establishing monitoring for implementation and effectiveness of the national BMPs; and
  • adding definitions and direction to clarify and improve consistency in the agency’s use of the national BMPs.

In its draft Directive on Groundwater Resource Management, the Forest Service also proposes amending internal directives for management of groundwater resources on NFS land. Specifically, the proposed groundwater direction would:

  • provide for consideration of groundwater resources in agency activities,
  • encourage source water protection and water conservation,
  • establish procedures for reviewing new proposals for groundwater withdrawals on NFS land,
  • require the evaluation of potential impacts from groundwater withdrawals on NFS natural resources, and
  • provide for measurement and reporting to help build our understanding of groundwater resources on NFS land.

There will be a 90-day public comment period on the proposed groundwater directive and a 60-day public comment period on the best management practices directives.

Over the past few years, the agency has taken a number of steps to protect and enhance water resources on National Forest System (NFS) land to support ecosystem health, water quality, and water availability.  These initiatives include creating the first national Watershed Condition Framework, publishing a new National Land Management Planning Rule that emphasizes water stewardship, implementing a National Climate Change Roadmap and Scorecard, and investing in national assessments like the Forests to Faucets project.

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