May 26 and 27, 2015 45 stakeholders from Arkansas’s forestry and drinking water sectors convened at Camp Mitchell on Petit Jean Mountain at the first-ever Arkansas Forests and Drinking Water Forum. This forum was held to explore the common interests of the two sectors, to learn about the issues faced by each of the sectors, to build networks of professionals, and to initiate communication and cooperation between the sectors. The outcome of the forum was: discovery that the two sectors could benefit from collaboration, development of many new contacts, and a commitment to continue the dialogue.
During 2016, the Arkansas Forestry Commission requested and received a Landscape Scale Restoration grant from the US Forest Service to enhance the partnership between the forestry and drinking water sectors. The Forest Commission received $124,930 to implement the effort within the State. Late that year, the Arkansas Forests and Drinking Water Steering Committee was formed to oversee the grant as well as to improve communication between the sectors, improve cooperation between the sectors and to initiate collaborative projects. The steering committee consists of representatives from water utilities, forestry landowners, associations and companies, conservation organizations, as well as state and federal agencies. One of the first actions of this new committee was to hold a second Arkansas Forests and Drinking Water Forum to continue the conversation. The steering committee now meets semi-annually as the Arkansas Forests and Water Collaborative.
Forestry and drinking water may seem to not have much in common. However, over 60% of Arkansans drink water whose source is a forested watershed. Forests are generally considered to provide the best quality water for water treatment of all common land uses. Forests also provide protection of the water source from accidental pollution such as a tank truck collision or other spill. In addition, the forest industry makes an impact of greater than $6 billion to Arkansas’ economy and employs over 47,000 persons.
Protecting water quality, especially in watersheds that are sources of drinking is one of priorities of the forest industry. The Ozark St. Francis National Forests 2005 management plan states “Protect municipal and other potable water supplies and ensure that management activities do not cause permanent deterioration in water quality or quantity”. In the Ouachita, the Soil, Water and Air section of the 2005 management plan sets the priority as, “Protect source waters and other potable water sources”. The Arkansas Forestry Commission and the major forestry companies in the State also make protecting high quality water priorities.
Arkansas’ Forests and Water Collaborative’s exists to help the two sectors get together for their mutual benefit. Our mission is “…to facilitate conservation and better management of forested watersheds within Arkansas to protect sources of public water supply through improved understanding and communication between the forest and water sectors”. We will meet that mission by providing opportunities for representatives of the sectors to network with each other, to improve inter-sector communication and cooperation, and to generate cooperative projects.
If the state can manage to maintain forest as forest, that will go a long way toward providing us with sufficient high-quality water to support the state’s needs.