Study: Climate change could increase demand for drinking water from Asheville area watersheds

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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watershed_forest_study_2014A new study says lower elevation watersheds stressed out by climate change might force more demand on higher elevation watersheds that can continue to provide quality drinking water.

Triangle Business Journal reports:

“Lower elevation forests are becoming more stressed (lacking water) and this may shift high-quality freshwater sources to remaining high-elevation forest sites,” says Lawrence E. Band, director of the Institute for the Environment and Voit-Gilmore Distinguished Professor of Geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in a release. Band is a hydrologist who models freshwater flows from watersheds. “If we become more dependent on upper elevation catchments for our water supplies, they become much more valuable,” he says.

That means, in the future, Raleigh could be getting its drinking water from Asheville, among other sources, according to the study.

Here’s more from the press release about the study:

The study, published recently in Global Change Biology, showed that forests at low elevations in the Southern Appalachian Mountains respond differently to drought than those at higher elevations. Lower precipitation and higher temperatures as a results of climate change make low-elevation forests more vulnerable to frequent drought than those at higher elevations, conclude the researchers from UNC, the U.S. Forest Service, the University of Minnesota and the University of Georgia .

The findings came from studying patterns in leaf-fall data at various elevations gathered from satellite observations of the Forest Service’s Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory, a Long-Term Ecological Research site in the Southern Appalachians near the North Carolina-Georgia border. The study site has a highly biodiverse ecosystem and a broad temperature range that creates vastly different climate zones. Abundant rainfall, well-filtered by its dense forests, makes the site a major source of high-quality fresh water for Southeastern cities including Asheville; Knoxville, Tenn.; and Columbia, S.C.

The team of scientists is led by Taehee Hwang, a UNC Institute for the Environment post-doctoral researcher, and consists of Band; Conghe Song, UNC associate professor of geography; Forest Service project leaders Chelcy Miniat and Jim Vose; Paul Bolstad, University of Minnesota professor of ecology; and Coweeta site manager Jason Love.


Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. dudeman May 22, 2014

    More thorough info on this matter is available in the recently-released National Climate Assessment (, which I only mention because much of its supporting data is provided by Asheville’s own National Climatic Data Center.

  2. Tippytop May 21, 2014

    The sky is falling, the sky is falling

  3. G May 20, 2014

    But if the Atlantic Ocean starts in Morganton after climate change, cant we just pipe the water in?

  4. theOtherBarry May 20, 2014

    What could be wrong with this story?

    Climate study > UNC Press release > Raleigh business journal “personalities” reporter > Ashevegas


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