What’s in a watershed?
Miles of pipeline may separate your tap from its water source. The distance is even greater between bottled water and its source—hundreds, even thousands, of miles. But whether you get your water from an individual well, a municipal system, or a bottle, all the water you drink comes from a watershed—the area of land that drains into a particular stream, river, or lake.
This water shows up in your food, your shower, your body. You are connected to watershed-processed water. Water doesn’t stay put. It moves between air, soil, and lake-river-wetland.
Consider: “Wine is the juice of grapes. Every drop of wine you drink is rain recovered from the ground by the mechanism of the plant that bears grapes, the vine.” (Hugh Johnson, The World Atlas of Wine, 1994)
Whether you drink wine or grape juice, water is the great connector: Rain to soil, soil to plants, plants to fruit, and fruit into your body.
Watershed protection groups address local water protection issues
Realizing this connection, many groups have formed throughout the US—and in other countries—with the purpose of protecting local watersheds. Each has developed a way to do this that fits a particular location—its rivers and wetlands, and its water problems. See for yourself.
Anticipate challenges to water protection
Many studies and reports make a case for water resource conservation and protection. As long as you work to protect water you will face challenges, sometimes from those who fear they have something to lose as a result of water protection actions. Be prepared to address some of these concerns, including property rights, energy development (particularly fossil fuels), residential development, and agricultural practices that affect water quality.
Watershed plans: Based on science
Watershed conservation plans should be based on watershed science. You can find templates and examples for writing watershed management plans such as EPA’s watershed handbook.
Tools and techniques for water protection abound. The real challenge lies in putting together a group of people who will use those tools, converting a written plan into sustainable community action.
Environmental conservation depends on citizen action
Why is watershed conservation a citizen action project? There are no federal or state laws that protect watersheds overall. Some of our environmental protection regulations may protect parts of watersheds. Since watersheds are systems made up of interconnected parts, what happens in one part affects other parts. So conservation that works must include all parts.
Conservation requires both understanding and action
- Your community, its people, their economy, and their values
- Effective communications that capture residents’ attention for watershed protection
- The science of watersheds and how a healthy natural water system works, so you know how to match protection actions with desired results
- Federal, state and local regulations and laws that can be used to help you protect parts of the watershed (e.g. zoning, water quality standards, stormwater management, etc.) Existing regulations protect only certain resources, in certain ways– so it is also important to understand what the laws and regulations do not protect because that is where local protection will be needed.
- Forming a watershed group with a clear mission.
- Measuring watershed protection progress annually
- Writing a watershed conservation plan
- Keeping the conservation effort alive in your community, long-term—as long as you’ll need water!
The need for watershed protection may be sparked by a local crisis, like an oil pipeline rupture, major flooding, or the presence of raw sewage in a river.
However, the best time to act for river and watershed protection is before a crisis occurs. Once water is polluted, you have to include clean-up in your plan–which costs more and may be difficult to achieve.
This Watershed section (comprised of three parts) is a summary of tips that can help you develop a plan for watershed protection.