Watershed health directly affects the health of plants, animals, and humans that inhabit it. From the water you drink to fish you catch and the vegetables you grow in your garden, healthy watersheds are essential.
Watersheds support the health of:
- Natural Areas
Watersheds health is impacted by:
- Farming Practices
- Extreme Weather Events
- Conversion of native prairie, wetland, and woodlands to agricultural production
- Resource Extraction
- Rural and Urban Waste Management
- Small and Large Landscape Alterations
- Rising Temperatures and Changing Rainfall Patterns
- Parking lots, roads, and rooftops keep runoff from entering the ground.
- Fertilizers from lawns may end up in streams through runoff.
- Pet waste and yard waste can accumulate and runoff into waterways.
- Road salt can contribute to high chloride levels in the winter and spring.
- Oils, grease, heavy metals, rubber, coolant, and other materials from cars can get carried to waterways during heavy rains.
- Fertilizers and pesticides from fields may end up in streams through runoff.
- Tilled, compacted soil does not easily absorb stormwater, causing runoff and flooding.
- Livestock waste can contaminate water, and grazing near waterways can contribute to erosion.
The hydrologic cycle—the pathway of water movement on Earth and in the atmosphere—is strongly connected to the climate system. Changes in climate have been observed to negatively impact watershed health, and predictions for the future show a continued downward trend. Some of these changes include increasing ambient air temperatures, earlier and more rapid snowmelt, fewer and more intense rainfall events, and more frequent and extreme droughts and floods.
These events can further impact watershed health by:
- Reducing dissolved oxygen levels in streams and lakes
- Loss of habitat and diversity for fish and invertebrate species who typically reside in cold waters
- Reducing floodplain connectivity
- Reducing upstream/downstream connectivity due to decreased flows and drying of stream and river reaches
- Increasing erosion of streambanks from heavier precipitation events
- Stressing native vegetation that rely on more regulated precipitation, resulting in lower populations and less carbon fixation
- Increasing pollutant concentrations from urban and agricultural runoff
Maintaining the health of existing watersheds and restoring former watersheds can help to offset the potential impacts of climate change by:
- Maintaining baseflow during periods of drought
- Flood mitigation through natural stormwater infiltration, floodplain connectivity, and storage of surface and ground water
- Allowing plant life in the watershed to regulate air and water temperature with shading and evapotranspiration
- Providing a haven for migrating species
- Carbon sequestration in native flora and soils