What is a watershed and why are they important to us? A watershed is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “the land area that drains to one stream, lake or river – affects the water quality in the water body that it surrounds”. Actually every inch of the land around us is part of a watershed. All land drains into some type of water body such as lakes, rivers and streams, and will directly affect its water quality. Because we all live on the land, we all live in a watershed. This should make the condition of our watersheds important to everyone.
Healthy watersheds provide critical services, such as clean drinking water, productive fisheries, and outdoor recreation, that support our economies, environment, and quality of life. Healthy watersheds can even increase property values if you reside near healthy rather than impaired waters.
To have a healthy watershed, there are many factors that play a role, such as physical and chemical water quality conditions able to support healthy biological communities, and a dynamic hydrologic and geomorphologic process. A healthy watershed will have a structure and function in place to support healthy aquatic ecosystems. Some key components to this are natural vegetation in the landscape, intact and functioning headwater streams, and floodplains, and will also demonstrate sediment transport.
The EPA created the Healthy Watersheds Program (HWP) which takes a non-regulatory, collaborative approach to maintaining clean waters. Some things that can be done by an individual to protect our watersheds include minimize fertilizer use, clean up pet waste, properly dispose of household hazardous waste, go native by planting native trees, shrubs, and plants that require less water, conserve water, and get involved in local organizations and clean ups. You can learn more about your local watershed at https://water.usgs.gov/wsc/map_index.html . It’s difficult to preserve and protect our valuable natural assets, if we don’t know about them.