Skip to main content

Protecting water from 'Forest to Mi Faucet'

Today’s MI Environment story by Mike Smalligan and Rachel Coale of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, is from the State of the Great Lakes report.

If you followed the water in your tap backward to the source, where would it come from? A river? A lake? A well in the ground? The surprising answer for most people in Michigan is – a forest!

Group of people with Greening of Detroit planting trees. The organization has planted more than 135,000 trees along streets and within parks and playgrounds in the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park. Photo courtesy of DNR.

Since 1989, Greening of Detroit has planted more than 135,000 trees along streets and within parks and playgrounds in the cities of Detroit, Hamtramck, and Highland Park. Courtesy of DNR. 


The Great Lakes State’s 20 million acres of forests, covering 56% of its land area, play a crucial role in protecting and providing drinking water. Forests clean and cycle about six trillion gallons of rainwater annually, water that eventually ends up in homes as clean drinking water. Trees move water into the soil to reduce surface runoff and filter out contaminants.

Many of Michigan’s environmental problems are in parts of the state with the most people and the fewest trees. Without the benefits of trees and forests, people need to work harder to keep water healthy.

The way Michigan takes care of its land — through agricultural practices, developing communities, and harvesting trees in forests — has a direct effect on water quality and the cost to treat drinking water. That’s why utilities develop source water protection plans. Good strategies can include responsible forest management, tree planting, community outreach, best practices for loggers, and conservation easements.

A cleaner starting point means less work to remove contaminants. This isn’t important for cities alone – good forest management protects the groundwater in rural areas and those relying on private wells, too.

Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service show clear links between declining forest cover and watershed status. If forest lands are lost or managed poorly, the consequences show up in quality of life. Lake Erie’s woes are an example: With just 19% of forest cover remaining, persistent issues with nutrient overloads and algae growth harm wildlife, fish, and communities relying on this drinking water source.

Contrast this with Lake Superior, the cleanest Great Lake, whose watershed is 91% forested. Southeast Michigan – home to 40% of Michigan’s population – is fortunate that Lake Huron, the primary drinking water source for most residents, still has forests covering two thirds of its watershed.

To help forests protect drinking water, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has launched a three-year initiative called Forest to Mi Faucet. The DNR Forest Stewardship Program is leading a dozen partners in connecting conservation groups to municipal water utilities and educating woodland owners about the relationships between forests and drinking water. Forest to Mi Faucet will strategically plant more than 800,000 trees to maintain or enhance water quality benefits.

The project builds on the federal Forests to Faucets 2.0 analysis of priority watersheds for protecting surface drinking water. The analysis, detailed in an interactive story map, identifies watersheds with potential for forest protection or restoration.

The goal of Forest to Mi Faucet is to build the foundation for a program to provide payment for ecosystem services where forest owners are compensated for practices that provide clean water.

The Great Lakes are the drinking water source for 30 million people in the U.S. and Canada. Michigan can help protect this globally significant resource by thoughtfully managing public and private forests.

Forest to Mi Faucet is funded by grants from the USDA Forest Service: a $300,000 Landscape Scale Restoration grant and a $315,000 Lower Great Lakes grant through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. All partners are equal opportunity employers and providers.


The DNR’s Forest to Mi Faucet initiative has five main components:

1. Help at least 15 municipal water utilities implement source water protection plans.

2. Inspire and empower landowners to manage and conserve their woodlands to protect drinking water.

3. Plant 60,000 trees in riparian zones of urban and rural forests for water quality and reduced runoff.

4. Educate people about connections between forests and their drinking water.

5. Plant 750,000 trees in state forests to help protect water quality.