Watersheds are the lifeblood of a healthy environment
Water makes up more than half of the human body, and nearly three-quarters of the earth itself. It’s easy to take something so ubiquitous for granted, but it is more important than ever to protect our watersheds for the good of all the life they sustain.
Virginia has more than a dozen major watersheds, including the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Each of these is fed by major tributaries, like the James River, and all of the smaller creeks and streams that feed those tributaries.
Pollution at any point in this sequence is carried along to larger and larger bodies of water. This includes items and chemicals that are dumped directly into a waterway, as well as things that are swept into the water from elsewhere. Fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides that find their way into the watershed can have an especially dangerous effect. Riparian buffers can help to filter out some of these pollutants before they can cause significant problems, such as a harmful algal bloom.
Watersheds are home to countless species of aquatic wildlife, and there is a particularly diverse array where the fresh water from tributaries flows into the salt water of the ocean. Fish, crabs, oysters and the underwater vegetation around them are all affected by water that flows in from hundreds of miles away. This in turn affects the waterfowl and other wildlife that depend on these organisms for food.
For humans, a watershed is important not only for the clean water and food it provides, but also for major economic considerations: Ports are important transportation hubs where tons of goods are sent and received every day, and scenic waterways are a major draw for the tourism and recreation industries.
Increasing threats over the years have led to numerous conservation efforts, including the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s “Healthy Waters” program. More efficient home appliances have helped to reduce water waste, and water-conscious corporations have begun to embrace the need for more conservative use of water in their operations.
What You Can Do!
- Take steps to conserve water at home. Using water efficiently helps to protect the existing supply, so make sure you don’t have any wasteful leaks or habits that use more water than you really need.
- Dispose of toxic household chemicals in a responsible way. Whether you pour them down the drain or send them off to a landfill, they could make their way into the watershed if not handled correctly.
- Pick up after your pets. It’s not just the considerate thing to do for your fellow pedestrians; properly disposing of pet waste can also help keep harmful nutrients and pathogens out of the water supply.
- Take a stand for clean water. Reach out to your local, state and U.S. representatives about making water conservation a priority.
- Check out The Wildlife Center of Virginia to learn more about the wild animals around you, and how you can help keep them safe.