You are part of a watershed. The health of your watershed affects your life everyday. Whether you live in
the mountains, or on the Eastern Shore, city or country, you need clean water for drinking, cooking,
bathing, washing and many other uses.
Water can be a friend if you enjoy fishing, crabbing, boating, swimming or its scenic beauty. Unmanaged,
it can also be an enemy. Dams can only help control floods. Polluted water kills fish, crabs and other life
we depend on. Sediment from erosion clogs streams and smothers plant and aquatic life that is so
important to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. People living above you in a watershed affect your water.
You have a responsibility to people living below you in a watershed too.
Managing forests and trees can help. Some cities in Maryland already recognize the benefits of forests on
water supply. They own large tracts of timberland around their reservoirs and manage the forests for
many purposes. Lumber products, pulpwood used in paper, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities,
and a quality water supply - all come from a healthy, managed forest.
Foresters from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service are available throughout the
State to provide technical assistance to landowners who are interested in managing their forest lands.
Proper management of trees in a watershed can significantly improve the quality of Maryland’s water.
A watershed is an area where all the water, whether stream flow or ground water, flows to a common
point. Water usually runs into ditches, streams, marshes or lakes, and the land from which the water
drains to any of these collection points is called a watershed. Watersheds can be a few acres or as large as
several thousand acres. Large watersheds are actually made up of many smaller ones. Everyone lives in a
Healthy, managed forests contribute to the quality of water produced in a watershed. Trees take up great
amounts of water through their roots and evaporate it into the air. This usage and retention of water
reduces flooding. Forest soils act as high reservoirs for ground water, releasing it slowly, even during
periods of low rainfall, The forest floor acts as a natural sponge because of the large soil pore spaces, thus
keeping soils or contaminants from entering streams. When soil filled water reaches the forest, water is
quickly absorbed and the soil particles are deposited there. This effective infiltration system reduces
overland flow leaving little chance of erosion.
Maryland has six major watersheds. A small percentage of water in the western most part of the State
flows to the Ohio River, through the Mississippi and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico. Another small
percentage in the East flows directly to the Atlantic Ocean. The remaining water, approximately 90%,
drains into the Chesapeake Bay. It is obvious if we are to restore the waters of the Bay, we must direct our
attention further upstream as well.
When Lord Calvert first landed on Maryland’s shores in 1634, the State was nearly 95% forested. There
was a gentle balance between rain and earth. Forests acted as a protector for the fragile soil. Erosion was
not a problem.
Tree buffered the rain. Tree crowns broke the force of the falling raindrop (rain falls an average of 30
feet/second - enough force to break bonds between unprotected soil particles). Roots fastened themselves
to the earth, securing it in place. And, the litter layer of fallen leaves and branches acted like a sponge,
absorbing rain, slowing it, allowing it to soak into the ground. Water was clean; marine and aquatic life
and forest wildlife flourished.
As the colonists settled in Maryland, forests were cleared for cropland and the wood used for houses,
lumber and firewood. As more people moved into Maryland, more forest land was lost. More homes were
built, more land was converted for crops and more unprotected soil was exposed.
This conversion was most dramatic in the central part of the State with its well drained, rolling hills. The
mountainous west was often too steep and rocky for fields. The lower Eastern Shore was too wet to be
Awareness of land conservation and forest management began in Maryland in the early 1900’s. Today,
Maryland is about 40% forested. Areas in Central Maryland average less than 30%. Competition for our
forest land for conversion to farming, development, strip mining and highways is increasing. We know
that with less forest land, our water quality has declined. While much forest land has been permanently
lost, we can manage what remains, replant where we can and improve future water quality with forest
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service wants to know if this service is helpful
for you or your company, please send comments and/or suggestions to Maryland DNR.