Everyone knows that state parks protect our open spaces and historical resources, and provide recreational opportunities. But protecting the watersheds that provide clean water to cities is another benefit that often goes overlooked.
As sedimentation from development and damaging burns increases, water quality continues to decline. These problems will be exacerbated by climate change, as precipitation continues to decrease. Water demands will continue to increase, putting additional strains on the rivers and streams that feed forests and open spaces.
Well-managed parks provide high quality water to surrounding areas and watersheds, with less sediment and fewer pollutants. This photo shows a portion of the American River, as it flows through Auburn State Recreation Area.
Natural habitats including wetlands and grasslands play a key role in reducing pollution and particulate matter. State parks preserve these areas, and also protect streams and rivers from water diversion. Well-managed parks provide high quality water to surrounding areas and watersheds, with less sediment and fewer pollutants. Park management also helps curtail erosion, limiting sedimentation. This benefits the ecosystem inside state parks, as well as species downstream.
Parks also facilitate water regeneration cycles. Studies have shown that forest cover in watersheds lowers water treatment costs. Open spaces also facilitate natural groundwater recharge cycles, reducing the cost of pumping water to cities.
Water supplies are going to diminish as climate change increases, and State Parks will become even more valuable. Some parks are positioned above groundwater recharge zones, and if new lands are purchased above aquifers, the water cycle process will be better protected.
by Caryl Hart, Ph.D, and Jackson Vanfleet-Brown