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Water: Polluted Runoff


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forestry photo

Forests can serve as buffers to runoff, reducing water quality impairments from nonpoint sources. (Photo courtesy of NRCS)

Sources of nonpoint source (NPS) pollution associated with forestry activities include removal of streamside vegetation, road construction and use, timber harvesting, and mechanical preparation for the planting of trees. Road construction and road use are the primary sources of NPS pollution on forested lands, contributing up to 90 percent of the total sediment from forestry operations.

Harvesting trees in the area beside a stream can affect water quality by reducing the streambank shading that regulates water temperature and by removing vegetation that stabilizes the streambanks. These changes can harm aquatic life by limiting sources of food, shade and shelter.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it intends to revise its stormwater regulations to specify that a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit is not required for stormwater discharge from logging roads. EPA is also requesting comment on potential approaches for addressing stormwater discharges from forest roads and seeks input on examples of successful state, tribal and certification-oriented programs that are based on best management practices. EPA is working with stakeholders and its federal partners to determine how best to address stormwater discharges from forest roads and will consider a full range of potential non-permitting approaches under the Clean Water Act including voluntary programs and further support for state and tribal programs.  For additional information on this notice or to view or download the complete text of the Federal Register notice, please visit Stormwater Discharges From Forest Roads.

Fact Sheets and Reports

  • Nonpoint Pointer No. 8 - Managing Nonpoint Source Pollution from Forestry
    This fact sheet addresses the impact of forestry practices on nonpoint source pollution and positive steps that can be taken to reduce forestry’s impact (EPA 841-F-96-004H).
  • Water and the Forest Service (PDF) (35 pp, 1.9MB, About PDF)
    This report focuses on the role of forests in water supply, including quantity, quality, timing of release, flood reductions and low flow augmentation, economic value of water from national forest lands, and economic benefits of tree cover for stormwater reduction in urban areas.

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Guidance Documents and Manuals

  • Environmentally Sensitive Maintenance for Dirt and Gravel Roads (2005)
    This manual identifies, documents, and encourages the use of environmentally sensitive maintenance of dirt and gravel roads. The document provides insight into using natural systems and innovative technologies to reduce erosion, sediment, and dust pollution while more effectively and efficiently maintaining dirt and gravel roads and gives the users a "tool box" full of environmentally sensitive maintenance "tools" and practices.
  • Forestry Documents
    This is a list of forestry documents -- most notably BMP manuals -- that the Nonpoint Source Control Branch at EPA headquarters has found to be especially well done.
  • National Management Measures to Control Nonpoint Source Pollution from Forestry
    This report helps forest owners protect lakes and streams from polluted runoff that can result from forestry activities. These scientifically sound techniques are the best practices known today. The report will also help states to implement their nonpoint source control programs. (May 2005, EPA 841-B-05-001). Note: Forestry certification programs are rapidly evolving; for the most recent information regarding the major certification systems, please see EPA's list of forestry certification programs.
  • Techniques for Tracking, Evaluating, and Reporting the Implementation of Nonpoint Source Control Measures - Forestry
    This guidance is intended to assist state, regional and local environmental professionals in tracking the implementation of best management practices (BMPs) used to control nonpoint source pollution generated by forestry practices. Information is provided on methods for sample site selection, sample size estimation, sampling and result evaluation and presentation (July 1997, EPA 841-B-97-009).
  • Management Measures for Forestry
    This chapter specifies management measures to protect coastal waters from nonpoint pollution related to forestry activities.
  • National Fire Plan: Rehabilitation and Restoration
    The USFS National Fire Plan includes a significant emphasis on rehabilitation and restoration of watersheds with the goal of closely matching historical or pre-fire ecosystem structure, function, diversity and dynamics. Restoration projects focus on restoring watershed function, including protection of basic soil, water resources, biological communities and prevention of invasive species.

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Information Resources and Centers

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Special Programs

  • Canada's Model Forest Program Exit EPA Disclaimer 
    Canada's Model Forest Program builds local, national, and international partnerships for sustainable forest management. The Model Forest program was created by the Canadian government to preserve forests by applying new knowledge and technologies. A model forest demonstrates the collaboration of partners working on achieving sustainable forest management.
  • The American Forest Foundation's "American Tree Farm System" Exit EPA Disclaimer 
    The American Tree Farm System® (ATFS), a program of the American Forest Foundation, is committed to sustaining forests, watershed and healthy habitats through the power of private stewardship.

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Research Facility

  • The National Council for Air and Stream Improvement Exit EPA Disclaimer (Newer versions of Firefox are not compatible with the NCASI website. The website is accessible with Internet Explorer, Chrome, and Safari browsers.)
    The National Council for Air and Stream Improvement (NCASI) is an independent, non-profit research institute that focuses on environmental topics of interest to the forest products industry.

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Research Study

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