skip to content
Primary navigation

Water Quality

Clean water is essential to the economic and ecological well-being of all Minnesotans. From our basic biological need for survival to the role that abundant water plays in food production, recreation, and economic development, the amount and quality of water resources is intricately tied to our quality of life. Improving and maintaining local and regional water resources is one of the grand challenges facing society today.

Forests are under increasing development pressure which can reduce water quality. Regions of the state with large amounts of forest and increasing water use are particularly at risk of water quality degradation associated with development pressure. (USDA Forest Service, 2009)

Forests play an important role in maintaining water supply and quality. About two-thirds (2/3) of drinking water in the United States comes from forest lands, and Minnesota has over 17 million acres of forest—nearly one-third (1/3) of the state’s total land area (NASF 2008). The forest’s ability to supply abundant clean water can be compromised by disturbances, such as fire or forest harvesting, or by the loss of forests due to development, urbanization, and agriculture (Figure 1).

Maintaining and managing Minnesota’s forests in a responsible manner can help ensure the continued supply of clean water into the future. A majority of the Council’s efforts to protect water quality relate to minimizing the effects of forest disturbance and addressing development threats facing Minnesota’s forests.

Council Activities


Site-Level Guidelines—The Council has developed the Sustainable Forest Management Guidelines to minimize negative impacts to forest resources with emphasis on water quality. These guidelines are widely used by managers, loggers, and landowners to maintain water quality during forest management activities.

Minnesota’s Forest Management Guidelines include many practical recommendations to minimize impacts to water quality during forest management activities. Here, a crossing structure was installed to maintain the integrity of a small stream and minimize impacts to water quality.

Monitoring of Guideline Implementation—The Council works closely with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to assess guideline use and management activity in forested watersheds in the state. Information is used to inform outreach and planning efforts that reduce the risk of water quality impacts. Monitoring Program

The Council works closely with the DNR to monitor implementation of the forest management guidelines to ensure that they are being properly used to maintain water quality during and after forest harvesting activities.

Researching Threats to Water Quality—Council staff conducts research in collaboration with the University of Minnesota (UMN) and the U.S. Forest Service to assess existing and emerging threats to water quality, such as changes following the loss of black ash wetlands due to the invasive Emerald Ash Borer. (Minnesota Public Radio: "In warmer climate, a bid to preserve trees threatened by emerald ash borer")


This map shows the extent of parcelization that has occurred within 10 counties in northern MN. The Council uses this type of data to develop recommendation and policies to minimize forestland parcelization and conversion to other land uses.

Studying Forest Divisions—As forestland is subdivided into smaller and smaller parcels, it is much more likely to be developed into something else by landowners. Council staff has conducted several studies in collaboration with the UMN to evaluate forestland subdivision in Minnesota and identify the factors contributing to an increase in divisions. In response to these findings, the Council has developed policy tools and recommendations to discourage parcelization and its effects on forest coverage. Parcelization Report

Forestland Tax Policy—Taxes are often cited as one of the key factors contributing to the sale and development of forestlands in Minnesota. The Council has worked closely with the Minnesota State Legislature to develop tax policies favorable to forest landowners and local governments.

Competitiveness of Minnesota’s Forest Industry—Forest products such as timber provide economic benefit to landowners and forest-based communities, allowing them to retain existing forestlands. A healthy forest industry is essential for this benefit to be feasible for most landowners. The Council has conducted a series of in-depth studies examining the health of Minnesota’s forest industry and provided several recommendations to maintain its competitiveness in a global economy. Competitiveness Report

Measuring Forestland Disturbance, Recovery, and Loss—Understanding the degree to which forests are disturbed over time and documenting the loss of forestland is critically important to effectively maintaining Minnesota’s forests. Council staff is collaborating with the UMN to map historic forestland disturbance and recovery over time, and is also working with the DNR for future assessments of forest change and conversion. Monitoring Program

The Council is working closely with DNR to map watershed disturbance patterns using satellite imagery. Above is a map of cumulative disturbance rates from 2000-2015 by catchment for the Mississippi Headwaters Watershed in northern Minnesota. Mapping forest land disturbance is an important first step in understanding how it influences water quality.

What Remains to be Done

The Council has identified several priorities to be addressed in the coming years to ensure the continued supply of clean water from Minnesota’s forests.

  • Continue promoting policies that favor maintenance of forestlands including a healthy forest industry and effective tax policy
  • Build stronger and more inclusive partnerships among forest and water stakeholders, governmental agencies, and local government to improve planning and action
  • Conduct research to quantify cumulative effects on water quality and identify key thresholds

Contact Us  to discuss ways you can help the council promote healthy forests to maintain water quality.

back to top