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Water and soils

Water quality

The Appalachians provide clean water to millions of people within and beyond the region, and to many urban areas that are often distant from the water sources they depend upon. Forested landscapes in the Appalachian LCC are particularly important for their capacity to provide clean drinking water and high-quality habitat for freshwater fish and other aquatic organisms. Surface water quality and availability can be compromised by increases in impervious surfaces and forest loss associated with urbanization, energy development, and surface mining; by point and non-point source pollution and increased sediment loads from these land uses; and intensive agricultural land uses. The impact of climate change on water quality and availability is likely to vary regionally, but average temperature increases may broadly result in reduced availability. Forest and wetland restoration efforts can have strong positive effects when sited appropriately.

Risk factors: Urbanization, surface mining, energy development, agricultural land use, climate change.

Hydrology and stream flow regulation

The amounts, velocities, and variability of flowing water in streams and rivers—especially the ‘normal’ or base flow and peak storm flows—have a profound influence on how water is utilized and what societal benefits and risks are associated with the great abundance of Appalachian streams and rivers. The risk of flooding, what kinds of outdoor recreation and tourism are supported, and freshwater habitat quality are all affected by these streamflow characteristics. In turn, flows are strongly influenced by the surrounding landscape and by precipitation patterns. In particular, the loss of forest cover from urbanization, mining, forest pathogens and other factors can elevate runoff, increasing downstream discharge rates, peak storm flows, and stream velocity. The frequency of extreme precipitation events is also expected to change over time; the effects of these events on streamflow will depend heavily on impervious surface cover, vegetation cover and characteristics, forest management practices, and other land use factors.

Risk factors: Urbanization, climate change, surface mining, forest pathogens.

Soil quality

Healthy, productive soils are a fundamental component of Appalachian landscapes supporting a wide variety of ecosystem services, including agriculture and silviculture, hydrological regulation, clean water, and carbon storage. Soil loss and compaction associated with surface mining and some reclamation practices can impede forest regeneration. Soil chemical properties, water content, and microbial communities are all negatively affected by some invasive plants across large areas, compromising native plant communities and restoration efforts.

Risk factors: Invasive species, surface mining.


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