Session: Water and Forest

“An integrated management crucial to cope with global changes in the Mediterranean’’

Organization: Plan Bleu, EFIMED

Rapporteur: Mr. Davide Pettenella (University of Padova)

Facilitator: Ms. Nelly Bourlion (Plan Bleu)


The Mediterranean region is very diverse both in terms of forest cover and water resources. After a millennia of decrease in forest cover, the northern rim of Mediterranean basin has experienced during the last decades a natural plant re-colonisation due to the abandonment of rural areas and the urbanisation of society. In contrast, the eastern and southern rims are characterized by a high pressure from human populations on forest and woodland ecosystems leading to overexploitation, overgrazing and biological degradation. Such a situation is explained by a high population growth, low income per capita and a marked rural population density. In addition, most countries on the southern and eastern shores of the Mediterranean are in ‘water stress,’ with less than 1000 m3/capita/year. These changes in the landscape have far reaching consequences for water availability and quality.

The Mediterranean region is approaching 500 million inhabitants. The already vulnerable water resources are under increased pressures. The momentum for the bio economy might also contribute to even increase water demands, as bio products can have considerable water footprints. Despite the increase reliance on alternative sources, forest catchments supply a large proportion of water used for domestic, agricultural, industrial and ecological needs. We might soon be in a situation where decision will need to be taken in the allocation of water resources between green water used by forests and blue water than can be regulated and used for agriculture, industry and human consumption. South Africa and Australia have already pioneered regulations in this respect. On the other hand, forests can make a significant contribution to water quality. The shadow cast by riparian tress helps maintaining cooler water temperatures and higher oxygen contents. Minimization of soil erosion reduces the flux of sediment into in water bodies, while well-developed root systems help filtering nutrients and some pollutants. In managed forests, these ecosystems services depend on adequate forest management. Indeed, inadequate timber harvesting or extraction, or roads and stream crossings with forest tractors, may change dissolved and chemical particulate concentrations and fluxes in water bodies, leading for instance to increased sediment inputs in the water. Moreover, there is a risk of oil pollution during forest works using tractors and other machines.

While forests are well known to play an important role in the production of water - in terms of quality, quantity and seasonality - water and forest policies remain quite disconnected. Even more, the water and forest value chains are almost totally divorced. Although water related forest ecosystem services have been evaluated in monetary terms quite many times, it remains mainly an academic exercise. Only a few local efforts to implement Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) are attempting to create a forest- water value chain, especially those providing the financial means needed to manage forests for water.

It is then necessary to have a better and shared understanding of the interactions between forests and water, be there synergies or trade-offs, in order to be able to develop the necessary institutional arrangements. This shared understanding can be achieved through increased cross-sectorial dialogue among the forest and water communities supported in an effective policy-science-practice interface.

This is urgent as water related ecosystem services might become even more relevant in the next years while the Mediterranean basin is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change. Effects of climate change (e.g. changing precipitation patterns, increasing temperature) will disturb the relationships between forests and water. Moderate reductions in precipitation might have dramatic effects in the water flows produced in forested basins. Climate change can also have indirect effects on water resources, such as increased extent and severity of wildfire and forest mortality as this can also increase the erosion risk.




This session will have the following objectives:

  • What are the priorities in managing forest for water in the Mediterranean? What new policy developments are being implemented?
  • How to set a favourable regulatory framework to enhance the role and the use of forests as “green infrastructures” providing high quality drinking water? Does it make sense?
  • Are water-related Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) a relevant option?
  • What are the adaptation opportunities associated with forest management, in the context of water and aquatic ecosystems?
  • How to enhance a cross-sectorial science- policy dialogue in the field of forest and water?


Ms. Nelly Bourlion (Plan Bleu)

Mr. Inazio Martinez de Arano (EFIMED)

Ms. Sophie Vallée (EFIMED) 



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