Managing Forests for Increased Regional Water Yield in the Southeastern U.S. Coastal Plain


  • Paper No. JAWRA-12-0103-P of the Journal of the American Water Resources Association (JAWRA).
  • Discussions are open until six months from print publication.


With growing populations fueling increased groundwater abstraction and forecasts of greater water scarcity in the southeastern United States, identifying land management strategies that enhance water availability will be vital to maintaining hydrologic resources and protecting natural systems. Management of forested uplands for lower basal area, currently a priority for habitat improvement on public lands, may also increase water yield through decreased evapotranspiration (ET). To explore this hypothesis, we synthesized studies of precipitation and ET in coastal plain pine stands to develop a statistical model of water yield as a function of management strategy, stand structure, and ecosystem water use. This model allowed us to estimate changes in water yield in response to varying management strategies across spatial scales from the individual stand to a regional watershed. Results suggest that slash pine stands managed at lower basal areas can have up to 64% more cumulative water yield over a 25-year rotation compared to systems managed for high-density timber production, with the greatest increases in stands also managed for recurrent understory fire. Although there are important uncertainties in the magnitude of additional water yield and its final destination (i.e., surface water bodies vs. groundwater), this analysis highlights the potential for management activities on public and private timber lands to partially offset increasing demand on surface and groundwater resources.