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Personal Watersheds: Small, but Mighty

2013 January 25

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By Jessica Werber

In law school, I was told I would one day become either a big-picture or a detail-oriented lawyer. I took the big-picture approach, but I now realize that the truth is in the small details, for it is often the cumulative small details that have the largest impact on the environment.

Waterbodies can be large or small, and you may be surprised that some of the smallest streams actually have the largest impact on your life and wellbeing. On a country drive in the Mid-Atlantic, you may see signs letting you know that you’re entering the Chesapeake Bay Watershed at any number of places along the highway. Did you know that there are five major rivers and over 100,000 water bodies that connect to this larger watershed?

Now, imagine your personal watershed: the land that collects water running downhill, the area surrounding where you live and work, next to your schools, religious institutions and supermarkets. Let’s say you are out walking your dog in the local park and realize you forgot to bring a baggie. So you decide to return and pick up the poop later. But it starts to rain and you figure the rain will take care of things. Turns out, it only makes things worse. The poop is washed into a nearby small stream, which feeds into other streams and rivers, adding to increased nutrient pollution downstream and causing a variety of impacts.

You might not even know it, but your small action has triggered a bunch of reactions in your personal watershed. Think about the other people who go about their daily business. Your neighbor may use too much fertilizer on his lawn or may not be aware that the soap he uses to wash his car contains high amounts of phosphates, both of which also contribute to nutrient pollution. And what happens to all of the water that sloshes down the street in the rain? Or the household water from the shower and water that is flushed down the toilet? The answer: the water ends up in streams that connect your personal watershed to a larger one.

You can make a difference to protect your personal watershed, especially to prevent nutrient pollution. Pick up after your pet and give your neighbors some pointers about how to help minimize pollution. And, think about how even the littlest streams—which seem of tiny importance—are mighty in the end.

About the author: Jessica Werber is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Participant in EPA’s Office of Wetlands, Oceans, and Watersheds. She is also a licensed attorney. This post does not represent the views of the EPA or Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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5 Responses leave one →
  1. Kim Middleton permalink
    January 25, 2013

    Hi Jessica. Can you tell me something of interest — or concern — about the Flint River Watershed in the Flint, Michigan area?
    (Mr.) Kim M

  2. John Vogt permalink
    January 28, 2013

    I read about how zinc can affect atlantic salmon. I wanted to pick some-ones brain. I think that zink monophosphate [brand Moss Out!! 99% zinc monophosphate for roofs, sidewalks, driveways] that is used widely here in the Puget Sound in contaminating creeks, rivers and the sound. Zinc strips on rooftops are also widely used. From what I read it causes water acidity also. As a former roofer I beleive both the zinc strips and moss out are used on about 90% of the homes and apartments here in Washington. Right now our Salmon runs are down and I hope Zinc isn’t part of the problem. Salmon get poisened, Orca, Eagles and other species depend on healthy fish, as well as human beings. I hope someone has an answer for me. I am very concerned Wa state citizen that is here fighting for or air, water and land. Sincerly, -John V

  3. Ronald Neely permalink
    January 31, 2013

    Thank you so much for sharing, very useful post!

  4. Jessica Werber permalink
    February 6, 2013

    Hi Mr. Kim M.

    Thank you for your question.

    Here are two helpful links. The first is from your state and the second is from EPA’s page on grant projects.



    Instructions: 1) Go to Find Projects, 2) Change “year” to Any and 3) Type in Flint River as the Project Title

    Also, your Regional EPA office is Region 5. Here is their webpage:

    I hope this is helpful,


  5. Enviro Equipment Inc. permalink
    February 8, 2013

    Another tip to minimize polluting your personal watershed is not to flush unused medications down the toilet as they dissolve and can seriously damage the ecosystem. It’s better to keep them in the bottles have them taken away by the garbage where they are buried in an area that is less likely to contaminate watersheds, whether personal or public ones.

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