Beyond county lines: Taking a watershed approach to conservation


The term “watershed” has been a buzzword in recent years, popping up in discussions about conservation, water quality, and land management.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a watershed is “the area that drains to a common waterway, such as a stream, lake, estuary, wetland, aquifer, or even the ocean.”

Water is not the sole component of a watershed. Water flows over and under land that is characterized by its geological, pedological (soil), and biological features. If you are standing on land, you are standing in a watershed.

Land is also characterized by many land uses, such as agriculture, forestry, mineral extraction, or urban development. A variety of point and nonpoint sources of pollution may exist throughout the watershed as well.

Water quality. The cumulative effects of these interactions can be seen downstream and are reflected through water quality and biological monitoring.

Since a watershed is defined by topography and geology, rather than more traditional, human-made boundaries such as city limits or county lines, the watershed approach provides a more holistic and comprehensive perspective of how our land and water resources are being managed.

As stated in the Ohio EPA’s A Guide to Developing Local Watershed Action Plans in Ohio, “the watershed approach refers to a comprehensive effort to address multiple causes of water quality and habitat degradation in a watershed. It is a process that emphasizes prioritizing problem areas and developing comprehensive, integrated solutions by involving stakeholders from both inside and outside government.”

Stakeholder involvement and public support are essential for identifying water quality problems or threats and using that information to direct and implement watershed protection efforts. Prioritization of problems and threats is useful when available funding for projects is limited.

Watershed plans. Statewide, this approach is becoming more attractive as local watershed partnerships achieve success. So far, nearly half of Ohio’s land is covered by more than 60 watershed management plans that serve to protect and restore the water resources of the state.

Recent accomplishments by Ohio’s watershed partnerships include decreased sediments and nutrients entering streams in agricultural areas, the return of fish to acid mine drainage-affected streams in coal-bearing areas of the state, and improved infrastructure development strategies in urban watersheds.

There is nothing that highlights the idea that all things are interrelated more than the concept of a watershed. Successful conservation of our land and water resources requires an understanding of the natural and human-induced factors that accumulate and contribute to the quality of our environment.

The watershed approach will ensure that Ohio’s waters remain or become fishable, swimmable, and drinkable, while helping form partnerships at the local, state, and federal levels that will ensure the sustainability of conservation efforts.
(Kimberly Brewster is the Captina Creek Watershed coordinator and works with the Belmont Soil & Water Conservation District. Prior to her work in Belmont County, Kimberly earned her graduate degree at Ohio University, where her research investigated the effects and remediation of acid mine drainage in southeast Ohio.)

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