Water is an essential part of life; we all use water for various things, both individually and industrially. Do you know that 71 percent of the earth’s surface is water? Hence as humans, we cannot live without water.
However, water flow on the earth must be controlled to prevent flooding in homes and buildings. This is where watersheds come to play. Watersheds have many advantages for humans, such as providing a habitat for animals and plants.
If you have ever wondered how water from cities or towns gets to the ocean, you will have more clarity as we move on. Let us explore the uses of watersheds and how they are essential to the plant and animal kingdom.
What is a Watershed?
A watershed, referred to as a drainage basin, is the area of a surface by which the water is pumped and streams into a mass of water. Rain and snowmelt cause water to run down the surface of the earth.
Streams, seas, rivers, ponds, and lakes are just a few water types that watersheds discharge into. Every small creek you walk by is a portion of a river’s watershed and links to it.
There are many different types of terrain in watersheds, such as upland regions that descend from ridge tops to streamside regions that feature marshes, lakes, streams, and rivers.
In a healthy watershed, plants and wetlands catch incoming rain, slow the water’s movement as it travels via the stream system, filter out contaminants, and then permit the water to penetrate the earth to replenish groundwater.
Natural stream filtering and pure water are produced, as a result, creating shelter for fish and other species. Political borders do not define a watershed; instead, the hills and valleys of the natural world do.
A watershed might be big, like the one around the Mississippi River, or minor, such as the entire water that drains into a tiny pond. Large watersheds, also known as basins, are made up of numerous small watersheds.
Why Do We Need To Protect Watersheds?
Watersheds are a valuable natural resource that must be safeguarded. Watersheds offer habitat for a variety of species, as well as opportunities for enjoyment. They also filter water. We require healthy watersheds since all living things depend on water.
Animal excrement and herbicides used for landscaping end up in poorly managed watersheds that contaminate wheat and corn farms. Fish caught may not be considered safe to eat, and water supplies fed by contaminated watersheds might not be fit for drinking.
Even swimming may not be safe in some water. Life cannot exist without watersheds. They replenish the water bodies that give our drinking water and the water needed for pleasure, industry, and agriculture.
Several animals and plants use watersheds as their natural habitats. Therefore, we must safeguard our watersheds to maintain them pristine and healthy. Imagine a watershed as a huge sponge.
In order to retain precipitation in aquifers, highly permeable regions that hold freshwater, it must first be absorbed by plants, roots, and soil litter deep inside the earth.
Our drinking water comes from tap aquifers, and farmers use this water in the dry months for agriculture. The Mississippi River is just one of the numerous rivers that receive water from the watershed’s drainage system.
Why Do Watersheds Matter?
Whether the water is used for drinking or pleasure, watersheds directly impact its quality. Lead and mercury leaking into water supplies due to pollution can negatively impact watershed health. For instance, algae bloom is caused by fertilizer runoff into the water.
You are situated at a watershed regardless of where you are. The Lower Sugar River Watershed is connected by a network of highlands, springs, marshes, wetlands, and rivers created by water moving over the ground and through the earth beneath our feet.
In addition to offering enjoyment and outdoor leisure options, a healthy watershed offers clean drinking water, irrigation, excellent soil for agriculture development, protection from flooding, and appropriate wildlife habitat.
Since groundwater supplies 99 percent of Hawaii’s household drinking water, watershed conservation measures can improve the quantity of water collected as groundwater recharge.
When one considers the rising water scarcity pattern caused by a growing population, increasing income levels, and changing climate, the advantage of a healthy watershed is even more apparent.
Additionally, vital watersheds are the cornerstone of a society’s hydropower system that is economically advantageous and sustainable. A reliable water supply is necessary for hydropower to provide electricity all year round.
A system’s energy output is impacted by seasonal variations in river flows, topography, and forest cover alterations, making some ecosystems more vulnerable.
This might increase the difference in flow velocity between the dry and wet seasons and raise the possibility of flooding and landslides, both of which could harm hydropower facilities. Increasing siltation can start to break down turbine runners and jam intakes, adding to the expense of maintenance.
How To Protect the Watersheds?
For healthy watersheds, woods are essential. Through watershed restoration and conservation guided by local expertise, it may be possible to create and maintain healthy forest ecosystems to reduce climate change impacts and adapt to them.
By balancing carbon emissions and increasing resilience against extreme weather conditions and other climate change consequences, thriving watersheds with forestland could greatly reduce the adverse effects of climate change. Some of the ways to protect the watersheds are:
- Do not flush hazardous household chemicals down the toilet. Instead, transport them to a toxic waste facility.
- Use only organic, gradual fertilizers in your garden rather than insecticides.
- After your dog, clean up the mess and put the waste in the garbage or toilet.
- Never pour antifreeze or old oil into a drainage ditch or on the ground.
- Use low-water-use plants in your landscape to stop runoff that contributes to erosion. You can reduce how much water you use by planting extra drought-tolerant crops.
- Utilize a mulching mower and recycle yard debris in a pile of compost.
Several laws protect watersheds. The first, passed in 1954, assisted in coordinating efforts by the federal and state governments to avert flooding. In 1972, the Act was revised to include conservation initiatives.
In 1996, the Environmental Protection Agency also created a plan to assist watersheds. By merging public and private initiatives to resolve the greatest contamination issues, the watershed strategy is an environmental protection program created to address the diminishing watershed health.
How Does a Watershed Form?
A watershed is made up of the network of rivers that drain a specific region of surface area as well as the groundwater and subterranean aquifers that provide those streams with water.
A constant ridgeline that serves as the watershed’s border divides it from nearby ones. Watersheds come in all shapes and sizes and can be broken down into sub-watersheds. The watersheds’ reservoirs are filled with rainwater or melted snow.
Chester County experiences roughly 46 inches of precipitation annually, which regularly falls annually. Streams, marshes, and lakes all obtain their water from rainfall that falls and immediately runs off the land’s surface.
Stream water also originates from leaks and springs, where liquid from aquifers emerges to the land’s surface. It focuses its discharge in low regions and creates little stream channels as the water gathers and travels downslope.
These tiny streams are regarded as the watershed’s headwaters. These little streams combine to generate more significant streams that eventually empty into lakes, estuaries, and oceans.
Headwaters are the origins of a water supply. The convergence is where headwaters gradually join other waterways, while the mouth is the terminus of the streams that flow into the primary body of water.
Are Watersheds Good For the Environment?
Watersheds produce various beneficial environmental effects, including water filtering and storage, purifiers, carbon storage, nitrogen cycling, soil properties, recreation, food production, and timber production.
Poor watersheds have an impact on wildlife. Pollution in watersheds affects aquatic life swiftly, and new contaminants introduced to ecosystems change the habitats of wildlife. The contaminated water supply that develops may be dangerous to people.
Eradicating some species and importing new, aggressive ones that obliterate the original species lowers biodiversity. The food chain could be impacted by microorganisms that nourish birds and other animals to seafood that feeds people.
All organisms require a healthy watershed home to thriving plants and pure water for survival. Anteaters and pumas can go through their entire life cycles, eat, and find refuge in a rainforest watershed.
In contrast, a fox, raccoon, or bobcat needs a wooded watershed to survive. The well-being of the wildlife residing in a watershed is ensured by maintaining the soil and plants.
Watersheds facilitate the nutrient cycle in our ecosystems. These nutrients include carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. The development and existence of organisms depend on the circulation of these nutrients.
We all require clean water for drinking, as well as for activities like cooking and entertainment. Hence, watersheds play an important role in our activities involving water.
We all reside in a watershed, even if only some are fortunate to live near a stream or pond. In a watershed, everything we do impacts the water quality. Your tap water and surrounding lakes or streams are a small part of a much bigger water system.
Hence, it is best to take precautionary measures to save the watersheds so that you can utilize clean water for your activities.