“We are grateful for the public’s involvement and want to offer additional time for more States, tribes, individuals and groups to submit comments,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “The goal is to improve the quality and consistency of our approach to understanding groundwater resources on National Forest System lands, and to better incorporate consideration of those resources to inform agency decision-making. We look forward to additional input on how to achieve those objectives.”
The proposed directive on groundwater resource management was published in the Federal Register on May 6.
The original comment period closes on August 4, 2014. A notice will be published in the Federal Register extending the comment period an additional 30 days until September 3, 2014. Currently, the Forest Service does not have a consistent approach to evaluating the potential effects to groundwater from the multiple surface uses of National Forest System (NFS) lands, or the role that groundwater plays in ecosystem function on NFS land. Nor does it have a consistent approach to responding to proposals that require Forest Service authorization when those proposals might impact groundwater resources. The proposed directives would create a more consistent approach for the Forest Service to evaluate and monitor the effects to groundwater from actions on national forest system lands. By improving the agency’s ability to understand groundwater resources, the proposed directive would make the agency a better and more consistent partner to States, tribes and project proponents.
The proposed directive does not specifically authorize or prohibit any uses, and is not an expansion of authority. The agency recognizes and honors the States’ authority in the allocation and appropriation of water. The proposed directive would not infringe on a States’ authority to allocate water, nor would it impose requirements on private landowners.
“The Forest Service provides drinking water for more than 66 million Americans and impacts watersheds across the country,” Tidwell said. “It is important for the Forest Service to be effective and consistent in its approach to analyzing, evaluating impacts to, and monitoring water resources, including groundwater, on the national forests and grasslands.”
Through comments on specific proposed Forest Service decisions, and through other avenues, the public has increasingly indicated that it expects the Forest Service to review and address potential impacts to groundwater resources as part of the analysis it performs to support its decisions and actions.
The proposed directive would allow the Forest Service to clarify existing policy, and better meet existing requirements in a more consistent way across the National Forest System. It would:
- Create a consistent approach for gathering information about groundwater systems that influence and are influenced by surface uses on NFS land, and for evaluating the potential effects on groundwater resources of proposed activities and uses on NFS lands.
- Bolster the ability of Forest Service land managers to make informed decisions, with a more complete understanding of the potential impacts for activities on NFS lands to and from groundwater.
- Support management and authorization of various multiple uses by better allowing the Forest Service to meet its statutory responsibility to fully analyze and disclose the potential impacts of uses or activities.
The mission of the U.S. Forest Service, an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency also has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.