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Why Watersheds?

Wade Belew
Stewardship Coordinator
Cotati Creek Critters

Last week’s editorial column pointed out the newly installed signs in the area that designates watershed boundaries and questioned their purpose. By acknowledging the signs you did exactly what they were designed to do, begin a public dialog about what watersheds are and educating people about why they are important.

The simplest definition of a watershed is all the land area that drains to a common outlet. For example, the Laguna de Santa Rosa watershed is all the land area that drains out the Laguna channel into the Russian River. The Laguna is a sub-watershed of the Russian River watershed. To a smaller scale, Copeland creek watershed is contained within the Laguna watershed. A watershed can cover states, as the Colorado River does, or a small stream like Cotati Creek.

Who cares about watersheds? Anyone who cares about our drinking water supplies, flood control and the arrival of pathogens like West Nile Virus should be interested in the concept of watersheds. The science of hydrology uses watersheds as a natural unit of study, as there are very few naturally defined boundaries in the landscape. Hydrologists study watersheds to understand groundwater recharge and how to protect neighborhoods from flooding.

Why identify watersheds with signs? There is an old saying that I’ll modify for the purposes of a family paper: “Excrement” rolls down hill. With watersheds, excrement washes downhill. Some portion of any fertilizer or pesticide that is used in your yard will wash off your property and further down the watershed, either ending up in a creek or in the ground water. We’ve all heard about the problem with invasive Ludwigia choking the Laguna and sheltering mosquitoes that can carry West Nile Virus. You may know that excess nutrients are contributing to the problem. If you know you live in the Laguna watershed, you may then think twice about dumping a 25 lb. sack of nitrogen on your lawn and consider other options.

Having a basic understanding of watersheds, which one you live in and how your everyday actions can have an impact will help us address our current and future challenges regarding that precious, life-giving substance – water.

One thought on “Why Watersheds?

  1. It is true that only about half of adults know what a watershed is, but teaching them this is a roundabout way to encourage conservation attitudes and behavior. It is more effective for people like you to speak to the public in their language — clean water, nature protection, pollution control — then to try to teach them our language. We’re simply too outnumbered for that approach to pay off.

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