UPDATE: HW Policy & Mgmt – AdamsP 07 is a copy of the Adams paper that Loup Loup referred to.
This article was run in the Oregonian on Aug. 20 entitled “Do Oregon’s clear-cut and pesticide buffers protect drinking water from creeks, rivers? “. It makes one wonder if this was timed to raise this question at the same time as Senator Wyden is working on the O&C lands issue- especially when it is not clear that the story fairly depicts the OSU studies, and the Oregonian did not publish Dr. Adams’ response. Fortunately, I was able to obtain a copy of his response and post it here:
Forestry and Drinking Water – Still a Vital Combination
Forestry and clean water, it’s an issue with many angles. On Wednesday, The Oregonian focused on a local controversy while also raising broader questions about forest stream protection and clean, reliable drinking water supplies. But even among these questions and views of the local controversy, some key facts can be gleaned (quotes italicized below from the original Oregonian article) and further illuminated. The latter observations draw from my 30+ years of experience with forestry and watershed research and education.
“Timberlands are easier on water quality than cities and farms.” Not only that, timber harvesting and other forestry activities occur at some level on nearly all of Oregon’s major municipal watersheds. Drinking water quality from these areas remains high because of typically excellent source water and very strict standards for treatment and monitoring, although localized or short-term problems sometimes occur. This is true even in watersheds that have little or no timber harvesting because water quality in forest streams can vary widely with storms and other natural influences.
“Oregon’s rules for private forests are less stringent than in neighboring Washington…” Yes, but this begs the question of whether those stringent standards result in an effective balance of benefits from those forest lands. During 1994-2006, a period when much stricter rules were enacted, western Washington lost about 185,000 acres of forest land to development and other uses. Oregon remains committed to maintaining its private forests in forest land use, and that includes serious consideration of the cost-benefit balance of forestry regulations.
“Stream buffers for aerial herbicide spraying are also smaller in Oregon than in Washington.” Again true, but does water quality sampling in Oregon reveal any current problems? A 2012 analysis by the USGS of the McKenzie River basin, which is Eugene’s water source and includes extensive industrial forests, states: “Forestry pesticide use is not considered a likely threat to drinking water at the present time.” Instead, in this mixed land use basin, “…urban pesticide use is potentially an important source of pesticides of concern for drinking water.”
“The state Forestry Department is working with timber companies, university experts and other agencies on three studies to better gauge the effects of logging on streams.” But contrary to the oversimplified, negative findings exclusively mentioned in the article, these studies are showing very encouraging results about the effectiveness of current forest practices and Oregon’s regulations in protecting water quality, including fish habitat. Some refinement of our rules may follow as the picture becomes clearer but there is no compelling evidence that dramatic changes are needed to protect water quality.
Other long-term water quality data from state agencies already support the general effectiveness of forest practices in Oregon. Oregon’s forest owners also have a history of working collaboratively with water users, and since 1997, they have invested over $95 million in Oregon’s Plan for Salmon and Watersheds. More broadly, these landowners provide an exceptional array and quality of ecosystem services, for which typically they receive no direct compensation. And with persistent pressure to sell or modify forestland for development and other uses, the questions of regulatory costs, benefits and unintended consequences must be taken very seriously.
Paul W. Adams is a Professor and Forest Watershed Extension Specialist at Oregon State University. Any opinions expressed are his own.
Note that Dr. Adams is the same as LoupLoup referred to in his comment here.