A Tale of Two Watershed Assessments

This weekend, I ran across two news stories that reflect two different watershed assessments. Since both stories came out at the same time, it might be confusing. Forests to Faucets is one, and Watershed Condition Assessment is the other. F2F is about drinking water, and WCA is based on a broad range of indicators found here.

This news story is about the Forests to Faucets map here.

SAN ANDREAS – New maps posted online this month by the U.S. Forest Service pinpoint where the nation’s drinking water is most jeopardized by wildfires and other threats to high-country forests.

One of the hot spots, according to the maps, is the headwaters of the Mokelumne River in the high Sierra east of Stockton.

The new mapping effort is called Forests to Faucets. The data behind it is why water utilities in some western cities now help pay to maintain portions of nearby national forests.

While this article, about the Helena National Forest, I think is about the watershed condition assessments found here. Here’s the user’s guide.


HELENA, Mont. — A U.S. Forest Service report identifies the Helena National Forest as having the worst watershed conditions of all national forests and grasslands in a region that includes Montana and parts of Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota.

“We knew we had issues because of the history of the Helena forest,” said Meredith Webster, a soil scientist for Forest Service Region 1, which produced the report. “When the Forest Service acquired those lands, there had been a lot of heavy use on them. So while the results weren’t surprising, it certainly got our attention.”

The heavy use includes a century of mining, logging, fire suppression and other human activities.

The report looked at forest watersheds and classified findings such as water quality and quantity, aquatic life, roads, trees, vegetation and soils. From that a watershed received a rating of Condition Class 1, 2, or 3. A CC rating of 1 meant the watershed was fully functioning, while a CC rating of 3 meant a watershed that needed serious help.

The report found the Helena National Forest had 28 watersheds in need of serious help. Most other forests had zero to six. Most other national forests in Region 1 had from 57 to 158 watersheds in the category 1 rating. The Helena National Forest had 15.

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