Effective physicians use a systemic approach when understanding factors influencing health. As caregivers to our lakes and ponds, we look beyond the shores of our lakes, ponds, and rivers to the drainage basin to understand what influences water quality.
What is a watershed?
A watershed or drainage basin is the land surface area where precipitation collects and drains to a common outlet on a stream, river, pond, lake, bay, wetland, or other body of water.
A watershed boundary is the natural landscape of a continuous ridge of high ground forming a divide between two drainage basins flowing to different rivers, river systems, or seas. Gravity pulls the water from the higher mountains toward the lower streams and rivers. The speed at which the water drains to the central point depends on various factors such as the amount of precipitation, soil type, plant life, and terrain steepness. As the water drains, it meets natural and artificial changes to the land such as silt from logged forests, gravel from our roads, and manure from farms that can negatively affect water quality.
Most pollutants entering a body of water are from non-point sources and can have a cumulative effect from multiple origins. Runoff in stormwater and nitrogen compounds from farming are two examples. In contrast, point source pollution results from a single source, such as runoff from a construction site or sewer overflow. Effective management of watersheds involves addressing both. A physician has a better understanding of our health condition when looking at multiple systems: managers of lakes and ponds take a macro view to understand the influences on bodies of water within a watershed.
Partnerships with all stakeholders within a watershed basin help managers take a more thorough look at what ails a lake, river, pond, or stream. In Vermont, we have tactical basin planners from the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) who assist towns in addressing water quality issues. Vermont has 15 planning basins, managed by five watershed planners. A 5-year planning process involves collaboration with partners who assist in monitoring, assessing, planning and developing a strategy to improve water conditions.
We all live in a watershed. Whether we are homeowners, business owners, or builders/developers, there are many things we can do to protect our watersheds and their water quality.