With Earth Day approaching, it is prudent that we discuss watershed management as all the water that we and everything else on Earth needs to survive is funneled in some way or another through a watershed. What goes on it that watershed can affect the water quality and thus the health of every living thing that is dependent upon it. Consequently, it is vital that we take steps to protect our freshwater systems by implementing adequate watershed management strategies.
The Water Cycle
Water is in a constant state of motion, moving between different reservoirs on land, sea and air, in what we commonly refer to as the water cycle. The water cycle plays a very important part in maintaining life on earth. As water is cycled through different reservoirs on land, sea and air, minerals essential for plant growth and animal health are transported by the water along its journey; impurities are removed during evaporation to provide a fresh source of purified drinking water in the form of precipitation of rain, snow or sleet; and living organisms and ecosystems are sustained during this process.
However, as water moves along on its journey it can also become polluted with many contaminants, or freshwater systems can become overcome with invader species that upset the natural balance or ecological equilibrium. These negative impacts on our freshwater systems can be reduced if proper watershed management strategies are put in place.
What is a Watershed?
A watershed, or catchment area, comprises an area of land where all of the water that drains off of it runs into the same waterbody. A watershed typically consists of higher mountainous areas, sloping down to a drainage basin, where all the water that drains off the surrounding mountain slopes collects. These mountains, which are also known as a drainage divide, serve as a border between one watershed and another, with the water that drains off opposite slopes generally contributing to different watersheds. There are 2110 watersheds in the USA, and if we include the watersheds of Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico, there are 2,267 watersheds altogether. Clearly that is a lot of water to manage. Yet, if everyone took an interest in managing their own specific watershed, the responsibility of watershed management would rest a lot closer to home where there is a vested interest, and thus a more determined effort for a successful outcome.
Watershed Management Strategies
Because what happens upstream has a very big impact on what happens downstream, watershed management is very important. While we may not be able to actively manage the entire watershed - especially what happens further upstream - we can all still do our bit to preserve our watershed.
Protecting Key Freshwater Ecosystems
Protecting key ecosystems, such as riparian zones and wetlands that play a vital role in maintaining the integrity of freshwater systems, is a fundamental watershed management strategy. Degradation of riparian zones can result in soil erosion, resulting in siltation and water clarity issues in lakes further downstream. Wetlands, on the other hand, act as buffers, playing an important role in filtering out sediments, as well as other contaminants such as nitrates and phosphates, before they enter lakes. An excess of nitrates and phosphates can result in nutrient enrichment that can not only affect water quality, but can also result in the proliferation of aquatic weeds that can literally choke a freshwater system, restricting the movement of fish and other freshwater organisms, and inhibit the recreational use of freshwater bodies.
Aquatic Weed Control
When it comes to lake weed control, there are variety of options available to homeowners to manage aquatic weeds on their waterfront. However, most of these methods, bar one, are either ineffective, prohibitively expensive, labor intensive, or are not environmentally sound. These options include:
Hand pulling (labor intensive) - cheap, yet labor intensive method that requires continual input to eradicate pond weeds.
Mechanical harvesting (expensive) - not only is there a high cost associated with this method of aquatic weed control, it can actually aggravate the situation, making a bad weed problem even worse.
Dyes (ineffective) - while dyes are cheap and can be effective at eradicating pond weeds, if water turnover rates are high, they will dissipate before they have a chance to take effect, reducing their efficiency at eradicating aquatic weeds.
Dredging (expensive + environmental impacts) - dredging requires hiring external contractors at great expense. It also results in churning up the benthic sediments, which can have environmental impacts that can affect the integrity and productivity of the ecosystem, as well as its ability to support life.
Chemical Herbicides (environmental impacts) - chemical herbicides are non-selective; they systematically kill every plant within the system, including those that are not classified as aquatic weeds. This is not an ecologically sound method of aquatic weed control, as plants form the basis of food webs that sustain life in any ecosystem. Without plants, the ecosystem simply cannot function.
Benthic Barrier (cheap, effective, environmentally sound) - the Lake Bottom Blanket is a cheap, effective method of controlling pond weeds while still maintaining environmental integrity. It can be used to target specific plant pests within a freshwater body without harming other non-target species. This makes it particularly useful for maintaining a naturally managed watershed, free of chemicals and other environmentally disruptive influences.
Honoring Earth Day
When honoring Earth Day, we need to seek environmentally friendly solutions to common problems. The Lake Bottom Blanket is a benthic barrier that offers an ecologically sound alternative to many other aquatic weed control methods commonly used to kill pond weeds. By implementing this simple, eco-friendly solution, homeowners can do their bit to positively contribute to managing their local watershed.