Personal Watersheds: Small, but Mighty

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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.

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