Rio Doce watershed has centuries of land degradation and it was the main victim of the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history. This process of deforestation and soil erosion could be significantly mitigated if compliance to the new Brazilian Native Vegetation Protection Law (NVPL) would be ensured. Here, we show how the percentage of forest kept in areas of permanent preservation (APP) required by the NVPL drives the overall resilience and resistance of the entire Rio Doce watershed and how it contributes to the national restoration commitments. We used water quality as a proxy for watershed resilience and resistance and we found that compliance to NVPL would require restoration of about 716 thousand hectares of riverine forest across the watershed. We found that increased forested areas improved watershed resistance and resilience during the rainy and dry seasons, respectively. Our estimates suggest that the implementation of the NVPL could improve water quality, in addition to removing 14 Gt CO2 yrâˆ’1 haâˆ’1 from the atmosphere. At this scale, the forest restoration effort would represent 6% of Brazil’s restoration commitment. Financial feasibility of such a restoration enterprise is also achievable; at the highest possible estimate, it would compromise about 59% of the total fund proposed by the mining companies responsible for the accident. Given the low socioeconomic indicators of this basin, intervention should be designed so as to improve local livelihoods and, therefore, contribute to local adaptation and sustainable development.