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Watersheds

By: Kendra Richards
WatersheDuluth Correspondent

With all of this talk about runoff, we hear a lot about how it starts and where it ends up, but nobody ever talks about the journey. In order to be fully aware of the problems and solutions of runoff pollution, we need to understand watersheds—something that many people don't know much about.

“A watershed is an area of land that water flows across as it moves toward a common body of water, such as a stream, river, lake or coast,? according to www.swfwmd.state.fl.us/education/watersheds/.

It's a simple definition, but there is a lot to watersheds.

Watershed basics (from the Web site):
Houses, open fields, office buildings and forests are all part of a watershed. While every inch of land belongs to a complex, physical network of watersheds, the natural high areas of land describe a watershed’s boundary. High and low points of the land determine how rain water that falls onto tree leaves and rooftops eventually finds its way into our waters.

Because we all belong to a watershed, our actions affect the health of our watershed. Common activities like walking the dog, taking care of the lawn and driving the car leave behind pollutants. As rain water moves through the watershed, it picks up bacteria and chemicals, and carries them to our streams, rivers, lakes and coasts. Improper disposal of motor oil, pet waste and overfertilization of a lawn all contribute to this pollution. Because of its many random sources, we all share responsibility for this pollution — called nonpoint-source pollution.
A watershed’s most common nonpoint-source pollutants are bacteria and nutrients. Leaks from septic systems and pet waste are common sources of bacteria. When rain water washes the bacteria to nearby streams and lakes, it makes those water bodies unsafe for swimming and fishing. Nutrients most commonly come from yard fertilizer (which contain nitrates and phosphates), but they’re also present in pet waste and septic system wastewater. Rain water washes excess nutrients from lawns into waterways, where they cause algae blooms that lower the amount of oxygen in lakes and streams to levels harmful or fatal to aquatic plants and animals.

The Web site also has a lot of great ways to protect your watershed, keeping it safe from pollution:

Use fertilizers and pesticides sparingly
-Extra nutrients in the water supply disrupts the natural harmony between animals and plants of an ecosystem.

Have septic systems inspected for leaks and capacity
-Contamination of the water supply is harmful to plants, animals and people.
Conserve water
-Overwatering can damage lawns and plants and places extra stress on our water

There is also an organization called the Watershed Steward that pledges to keep watersheds safe. Some of their pledges include:
• Do not sweep leaves, grass clippings, or trash into storm sewers or the street
• Removes trash that they see along curbs and gutters
• Compost yard waste or leave it on the property or take it to a WLSSD or other official
collection site
• Sweep up and properly dispose of sand from winter street sanding
• Make sure that bare spots are rapidly "fixed" and that no soil erodes from their property
• Properly dispose of oil and other car waste and fix leaks
• Wash vehicles on their lawn or at a car wash
• Clean up after their pets
• Reuse, recycle and dispose of household waste, pharmaceuticals and personal care
products, chemicals, and electronic waste properly
• Minimize the use of lawn fertilizers and pesticides; test their soil before applying a
product containing phosphorus fertilizer