Earthworks WNC

How Trees Affect Water Quality

Forests and trees are widely known for their role in purifying the air by removing pollutants and harmful particles. However, their role in preserving the quality of our water sources is often overlooked. Water is a crucial global resource that is essential for our survival. Regrettably, human activities are degrading the quality of the water sources we rely on. Pesticides, fertilizers, and excessive sedimentation from agricultural and urban sources are endangering aquatic ecosystems and drinking water sources. Alterations in land use also impact floodwater damage and frequency.

Thankfully, the proper placement and planting of trees and forests can address these water quality issues. They help to improve water quality by controlling flooding, erosion, and flood damage. Tree canopies act as a shield, intercepting rain and slowing its erosive energy. Rain interception also reduces the effects of rain storms by allowing water to evaporate back into the atmosphere directly from the canopy without reaching the ground. Root growth and leaf litter enhance soil structure, increase water infiltration into the soil, and reduce runoff into waterways. 

Trees also help prevent flood debris from entering unwanted areas and trap windblown particles before they reach waterways. Trees improve water quality by filtering contaminants. Vegetation and plant debris slow down surface runoff, allowing sediment and pollutants to settle before they reach surface waters. Root channels and organic matter enhance the infiltration of dissolved pollutants, which are then transformed into less harmful substances by microbes in the soil. It’s worth noting that these processes also filter groundwater as it passes through the root zone.

Trees enhance aquatic habitats and improve water quality. Trees along bodies of water provide shade, reducing temperature changes and avoiding sudden fluctuations. They supply plant debris to aquatic systems, creating habitat and food for aquatic communities. The root structures of trees bind soil together, reducing runoff and creating more stable habitats. Enhanced infiltration of runoff from plant residues and root channels also reduces the amount of contaminants entering water sources.

Trees play a double role in benefiting us—not only do they purify the air, but they also ensure the health and quality of our water sources. By smartly planting trees in appropriate locations, we can collaborate with forests to safeguard and clean our water supplies.

To learn more about trees and the many benefits they provide, check out; 27 Facts About Forests and The Trees Among Them. You can find this and more here. 

Contact us today if you have any further questions, and our expert team here at Earthworks Tree Service will be happy to assist you. 

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