The size and density of our population make water quality, arguably, the single most important forest product produced in Massachusetts. There are 1,524 community ground water supplies and 188 surface water supplies in the state that provide the drinking water needs of 9,218,644 people including the cities of Boston, Springfield, and Worcester.
Forests are the perfect natural filter. Clean water is produced from areas where water is slowed down by vegetation and allowed to flow through the soil. Forests contain multiple layers of tree crowns, shrubs, and herbaceous cover to slow rainfall. Forests also provide a high rate of infiltration into soils through the amount of leaves and needles that trees shed onto the forest floor. These factors give a drop of rain a long pathway to travel before it reaches a stream. This long pathway and slow time gives the water less of a chance to cause erosion. It also provides more time for filtration before it hits a stream or ground water.
As land is developed and taken out of forest use, we lose the benefit of having those forests clean our water. We also increase the likelihood that the water is picking up pollutants from other land uses (houses, parking lots, roads etc…) on the way to water bodies. Noticeable changes in water quality develop in areas once approximately 1/3 of of a watershed is converted from forests to other uses. Once water quality is compromised it becomes much more critical and costly to treat drinking water. There are also many implications for the diversity of aquatic life. Consider the affect of your parcel within your watershed as you make decisions about the future of your land.
Every parcel of land plays a role in the local watershed, especially wetlands and those areas which lie next to streams, lakes and ponds. It is very important to treat these areas appropriately during timber harvesting. Massachusetts has developed a set of laws, Ch. 132 the Forest Cutting Practices Act, and Best Management Practices to help protect water quality during a timber harvest. It is very important to remember that as the landowner, you are responsible for assuring that these standards are upheld on your property. Knowing your responsibilities and working with a licensed forester who can help protect your interests are important steps to not only protecting yourself, but the water that your woods produce.