The health of any human habitation is tied directly to the quality of the water supply, and the quality of that water supply is frequently tied to the health of nearby forests. If you’ve ever taken a stroll through your local forest, you’ll understand what we mean. There is a feeling of cleanness and freshness that you simply can’t experience in a populated urban area. This is because the forest itself removes impurities and pollution from the atmosphere, leaving crisp, oxygen-rich air and cool, clean r water.
Of course, the forest has a limited ability to keep the environment clean and the water supply pure. As human activity continues to encroach on forested areas, the health of the entire environment can suffer. In this article from Oregon Forests Forever
, we’ll discuss the importance of clean water and explain the impact that the forest has on local water quality and what you can do to help ensure that those forests continue to thrive.
Water and Your Health
We don’t need to tell you that water is vital to your health. All of us depend on it to carry nutrients throughout our bodies, as well as to keep our skin and organs properly hydrated. Water also flushes toxins out of the body, meaning that if a person doesn’t have access to a pure water source, their risk of developing any number of preventable diseases increases dramatically.
If the water source in an area becomes polluted, it will negatively impact other aspects of human life, including sanitation, nutrition and, of course, agriculture. The foods we eat also depend on access to clean sources of water, as fruits, vegetables and livestock can accumulate toxins that are carried by the water sources they consume. These toxins will then be passed along to the human populations who depend on these food plants and livestock for their food.
The Water Cycle
You’re probably already familiar with the concept of the water cycle
: water continuously moves throughout the ecosystem. Water is evaporated, sublimated and then released through transpiration, entering the atmosphere, where it coalesces into clouds and fog. Eventually, that water returns to the earth in the form of rain, snow or hail. As it does so, it flows in various directions throughout the watershed.
As water moves across the ground, it can pick up dirt, debris, chemicals and other pollutants, which it carries along with it until it enters nearby rivers, lakes and streams. Pollutants can enter these bodies of water in other ways as well, eventually leading to a water source that has been compromised and is no longer fit for human use.
How Forests Keep Water Clean
In urban areas—and many rural ones—there are many opportunities for water to become contaminated. While we do have the technology and capability to treat drinking water to make it potable once again, this is often a very expensive and labor-intensive process that can be impractical on larger scales, which is why it’s important to prevent contamination in the first place.
This is why forests are so important when it comes to water quality: they serve as vast, natural filtration systems that remove impurities from the water cycle. As water flows across the forest floor, it seeps through the soil. The soil itself can collect some of the pollutants in the water, but the real filters are the many hundreds or thousands of trees in a forested area.
These trees absorb the water through their roots, which are anchored in the soil. The water is then carried by the trees’ circulatory systems, making its way up their trunks until it saturates every twig and branch. Through the process of transpiration,
the trees then release the now-purified water back into the atmosphere. Each tree can single-handedly purify thousands of gallons of water, meaning that a whole forest can easily produce millions upon millions of gallons of cool, cleanr water.
How We Protect the Forests
With all of this in mind, it’s clear that anything that threatens our forests also directly threatens our water supply. If the health of the forest suffers, it will not only put human health at risk, but it can also have a direct negative impact on the economy of an area, due to the funds that must be diverted toward water treatment and away from other requirements. For this reason, campaigns like Oregon Forests Forever continuously work for the protection of the forests.
Part of the ongoing campaign to protect the forest, and therefore, the water supply, includes brokering agreements between environmental groups and the timber industry
, ensuring that certain areas are protected for water quality and aquatic life. By establishing no-harvest zones around forest waters, we help to keep water cold and clean for fish and humans.
Modern technology has also been brought to bear on the problem of forest management with an eye toward protecting the water supply. For example, Oregon is now the first state with a real-time electronic notification system
that alerts neighbors when forest operations are taking place. This helps the various players to coordinate in a way that is most beneficial to the health of the forest itself.
What You Can Do
Every individual has their own part to play, and there are several things you can do to participate in the protection of your local forest and the cool, cleanr water supply it provides. Responsible use of forest products is an example of an invaluable way you can contribute to the health of your local forests. Purchasing wood products that are made in Oregon helps a great deal, as it supports the local economy and maintains the critical infrastructure needed to produce the wood products we all need.
You can also become a part of efforts to plant trees and protect them from pests and disease until they are well-established in an area. Volunteering with local organizations and joining campaigns such as Oregon Forests Forever
will have a major impact on the health of your local ecosystem, for many generations to come, and you can get started right away.