Protect Water Sources - Pacific Forest Trust

What We Do:

Protect Water Sources

Whether you live in a city, suburb, or rural town, you likely depend on forests to collect, clean, and provide your water. Forest watersheds provide cool, clean drinking water to over 180 million Americans. From their trees to your tap, healthy forests are crucial to our water supply.

Water is essential for life and forests are essential for water. Forests serve as our natural water collection, filtration, and delivery systems by collecting rain and snow and delivering it into streams, wet meadows, and aquifers throughout the year. Water flows from forests into rivers that supply our reservoirs, agricultural canals, and water tables. Forests also are key to flood control, absorbing and holding vast amounts of water in major rain events such as those increasingly seen with climate change, releasing it far more slowly, and cleanly, than would happen otherwise.

During the 1800s and 1900s, a “gold rush” on timber products from Pacific forests depleted their tremendous wealth of grand old growth, and with it, many natural systems that house wildlife, mitigate climate change, and dispense water. In the 21st century, with the ever-present threat of climate change and record-breaking droughts in the West, water has become an essential “liquid gold” dripping from and protected by the region’s forests.

That’s why we’re working to safeguard our natural water sources by focusing our on-the-ground conservation efforts to protect intact, forested systems, restore more natural forest functions, and reforest previously forested areas.



Drinking water for more than 25 million Californians, the large majority of irrigated agricultural water, and more than 80% of the freshwater for San Francisco Bay originates in the Klamath-Cascade. Noted for its globally significant biodiversity, this region extends from California’s Sierra Valley—the headwaters of the middle fork of the Feather River—across 12 million acres in California and Oregon. It encompasses the Mt. Shasta Headwaters area, an iconic summit representing the “top of the tap” for California’s water supply. These forest watersheds collect, store, clean, and transport more water than anywhere else in the state. Protecting and restoring this forested watershed is our top conservation priority.

Forests improve water quality

By minimizing soil erosion, reducing sediment, and absorbing polluting chemicals, forests maintain and improve water quality. Forest understory plants, leaf litter, and tree roots trap sediments and keep them from moving downslope and into waterways. Forests also reduce pollution including excessive organic matter from farms and polluting chemicals by absorbing and storing them safely.

Forests collect water, improving quantity

Healthy and well-managed forests with trees of varied sizes and ages (and even fallen logs, which are natural sponges), capture and store more snow and rain than overly dense forests or fully cleared areas during wet seasons. These forests also naturally shade snowpack well into warmer and drier months and slowly release water throughout the year, increasing water yield from snowmelt.

Forests are essential for fish and wildlife

Forests shade our rivers, streams, and lakes, cooling and cleaning them for the rich array of fish, frogs, salamanders, and other aquatic life. That shade reduces heat stress on aquatic plants and animals while limiting the amount of water vapor evaporating into the atmosphere. Large downed logs hold water and provide homes for amphibians, insects, and even small mammals.

How We Protect Water Sources

We keep water flowing by conserving and restoring natural watersheds

Intact forests are essential for watershed function. Fragmentation through the sale and development of forests degrades that function. We prioritize our work in threatened watersheds to ensure water will keep flowing down to the millions that depend on it. Working with landowners, we design and help implement conservation plans that specifically protect and restore waterways forever. This includes keeping forests intact, safeguarded from conversion, and maintaining and restoring natural watershed function.

We keep forest waterways clean and healthy

In our conserved forests, we reduce sediment in waterways by maintaining low-harvest buffer areas near rivers, streams, lakes, and ponds as well as by planting and retaining trees uphill from water bodies to reduce erosion. We restore and maintain canopy cover over streams to shade and cool water to benefit aquatic life and retain large trees near river and stream banks. When they die, these large trees fall into streams and rivers creating eddies and pools to hold water for fish and other water-living creatures.

We help forests collect more water

Our goal is to conserve and restore more natural forests. These more natural forests have a mix of short and tall, young and old trees that, together, better trap cloud and fog moisture—as well as increased amounts of snow—in the coastal and mountainous Pacific forests. Our work restores and sustains the naturally efficient system for collecting precipitation, shading water sources, metering out water into warmer and drier months, and slowing runoff in intense rain events.

We Develop Policies and Incentives to Protect Water Sources

Recognizing that waterways begin in natural systems rather than at reservoirs and at dam walls, we develop policies and incentives that conserve and enhance forest watersheds. We also seek to align public investments in forests to deliver synergistic benefits for climate, wildlife adaptation, and water management.

We’ve spearheaded successful efforts to include headwaters protection and watershed restoration through California’s Water Action Plan, ensured this in multiple state bond measures, and have launched a pioneering initiative to finance natural water infrastructure the same way we finance built water infrastructure.

We conserve wildlife habitats that support hundreds of species

Learn more about the animals that live in and around waterways in our conserved forests.


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Our forests can make all the difference in achieving our climate and water security goals, while also promoting rural communities and economies. Find out how PFT is working towards water security in California.