Forest Management

OWASA's forest management vision: 

Protect water quality now and for future generations by following science-based principles to manage our forest lands so they are healthy, diverse, resilient and sustainable.

OWASA owns 2,400 acres of forested lands, the majority of which is in the Cane Creek watershed. Cane Creek Reservoir is a main water source for the Carrboro-Chapel Hill community. Protecting the Cane Creek watershed helps safeguard water quality for the community. Sustainable forest management facilitates this protection plus provides other environmental benefits such as reducing risk of wildfire.

Our Vision for forest management and Guiding Principles and a set of clear strategies serve as compass as we develop forest stewardship plans and identify actions to improve the health of our forests. 

OWASA's 7 Guiding Principles for forest management:

  • Protect Water Quality, OWASA’s Highest Priority
  • Improve Ecological Health of Forested Land
  • Reduce the Risk of Wildfire
  • Improve Wildlife Habitat and Species Diversity
  • Sustainably Manage OWASA’s Resources
  • Engage the Community and Partner Agencies
  • Minimize Adverse Impacts on Neighbors and Surrounding Community

A key part of our approach is engaging with residents near our forested land to enable two-way dialogue – to garner local insights and knowledge, exchange ideas, and minimize impacts on neighboring residents – to protect the watershed together. 

Interested in receiving updates on OWASA's Forest Management Program. Sign up for our e-mail list here!

Community Dialogue on Forest Management in Cane Creek (June 20th, 2019)

In the summer of 2019, we hosted a Community Dialogue as well as a Forest Tour with community members, community partners and technical experts. These conversations enabled practical discussions and hands-on learning together, setting a framework for collaboration. The forest management information package for the OWASA Board of Directors July 11 work session includes a summary of the Community Dialogue, OWASA's presentation, and notes transcribed from the community dialogue. On July 16th the meeting summary was updated to reflect community feedback. We are committed to continuing our dialogue and collaboration with the community.

Water quality monitoring and forestry management on our  Cane Creek Reservoir Mitigation Property west of Buckhorn Road

2018 Prescribed Burn at the Mitigation Tract

The North Carolina Forest Service did a prescribed burn on a 24-acre section of OWASA’s Cane Creek Mitigation Tract (see map) in May of 2018. The prescribed burn was done to maintain and restore oak to a hardwood area on the site, and benefit wildlife and wildlife habitat. The prescribed burn was carefully planned and conducted under weather conditions to minimize the smoke impacts to neighboring landowners. Information about the prescribed burn was provided by the NC Forest Service and NC Wildlife Resources Commission at a public meeting on Wednesday, March 21, 2018, at 7:00 PM, at the Maple View Agricultural Education Center located at 3501 Dairyland Road. View the frequently asked questions document for more information.

Forest management for the Cane Creek Mitigation Tract near Buckhorn Road

In accord with federal requirements, OWASA is implementing a State-approved forestry management plan at our 491-acre Cane Creek Mitigation Tract near Buckhorn and Mount Willing Roads.

The goal of the forest management plan is to protect the water quality of the streams on the site as well as in the Cane Creek Reservoir, and enhance wildlife habitat. The plan includes:

  • wide, protected forested buffers along streams to protect water quality. Protected stream buffers account for 151 acres of the tract. 
  • improvements to promote diversity of plants and wildlife. 

Our work complies with North Carolina Best Practices Guidelines Related to Water Quality and recommendations in the North Carolina Forestry Best Management Practices (BMP) Manual to Protect Water Quality as amended in September 2006.

To read a letter in June 2015 from a biologist on the staff of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission about the effectiveness of forestry management at our mitigation tract, please click here.

Work to date at the Cane Creek Mitigation Tract near Buckhorn Road:

  • 2010:  Our contractor thinned a 25-acre hardwood area near the entrance to the site to enable more robust growth of the trees and to improve wildlife habitat. The contractor removed a 25-acre pine area on the north part of the property, and replanted it with loblolly pines as recommended by the WRC. 
  • 2013: Our contractor built an earthen access road and removable stream crossing to support our sustainable forest management activities. An aerial view of the Cane Creek Reservoir Mitigation Property and the approximate location of the stream crossing can be found by clicking here.
  • 2014: Our contractor thinned about 200 acres to promote overall forest health and vigor and improve wildlife habitat.  Thinning improves the genetics of the hardwood stand by removing the lowest quality trees and leaving the most desirable, vigorous, best formed trees of desirable species, especially oak and hickory. Thinning also enables new vegetation to grow on the forest floor as food and cover for wildlife. We cleared other small areas around the site including pines and trees damaged by Hurricane Fran.  Larger areas will be replanted with loblolly and shortleaf pines. 
  • 2015: Our contractors reseeded and stabilized the roads and “logging decks” to prevent erosion and protect stream water quality.  (A logging deck is a cleared area where logs are stored before they are loaded on trucks and where equipment can turn around.) We followed the recommendations of the NC Wildlife Resources Commission for seeding to grow grasses and groundcover as food and habitat for wildlife. The contractor spread out large piles of logs in low areas outside of streams and stream buffers to help filter sediment and thus protect the streams, and to provide cover for wildlife. 
  • 2016: We replanted trees in some of the areas managed in 2014 and thinned the 25-acre pine area cleared in 2010 and replanted with loblolly in early 2011.

Water quality monitoring

The US Forest Service and other agencies collected total suspended solids data on our property and five other sites in the Piedmont of North Carolina.  They collected data both upstream and downstream of stream crossings; the results do not show significant differences in upstream and downstream concentrations during base flow or storm flow conditions.  These results indicate that forest management best management practices help protect water quality.  To read their report, please click here.

For more information

Ruth Rouse, Planning and Development Manager, at 919-537-4214 or

Sign up for OWASA's Forest Management Program e-mail list here.