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Watershed data flow to state and local forest and water management decisions

Forest management practices require data and knowledge about local or site-specific conditions. Fifteen years of local watershed hydrology and water quality data from the piedmont of North Carolina were used in the 2022 revised NC Forest Service Forestry Best Management Practices manual, the Upper Neuse River Basin Association watershed modeling project to preserve water quality, and the Wake County, NC Water Partnership's Green Stormwater Infrastructure program.

Clear water flows over a wier blade in a forest stream.
This H-flume is used to monitor stream flow rates. Streamflow is a key characteristic of forest and urban hydrology, and in river basin planning and management. USDA Forest Service photo by Johnny Boggs.

Through a partnership with North Carolina State University, NC Forest Service, and NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, USDA Forest Service scientists worked to improve hydrology knowledge in managed and unmanaged forested watersheds in the piedmont region of the southern U.S. This effort resulted in important discoveries in streamside management zones (SMZs), forest hydrology, and water quality.

The researchers found that significant tree blowdown occurred in the SMZ, and forests play a more significant role in affecting hydrology and water quality in this region than in the coastal plains or mountains. Results were shared with state and local resource managers during meetings, watershed tours, and field demonstrations. Managers recognized the value of the work, and the data were used to refine statewide Forestry Best Management Practices guidelines in NC; to parametrize and validate a watershed model to simulate flows, nutrients, and carbon loading to Falls Lake, the drinking water supply reservoir for Raleigh, NC; and to offer guidance on the benefits of maintaining evapotranspiration in urbanized watersheds. Municipal stormwater leaders and consultants from the NC Green Stormwater Infrastructure group will use these results to protect water quality in rural lands and in urban forests.

Principal Investigators
Johnny Boggs, Biological Scientist
Ge Sun, Research Hydrologist
Steven McNulty, Hub Director, Research Ecologist
RWUs
4854 - Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center
4855 - Center for Integrated Forest Science
External Partners
AJ Lang, North Carolina Forest Service
Tom Gerow, North Carolina Forest Service
Bill Swartley, North Carolina Forest Service
Greg Shaeffer, North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Jean-Christophe Domec, Duke University
Sam Cook, North Carolina State University