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News and Resources

Know your watershed for healthy bays - November 7, 2013

We are extremely lucky here on the Delmarva Peninsula, with the Chesapeake Bay to our west and the coastal bays and Atlantic Ocean to our east. We can go from crabbing on the Wye River or get some crab cakes from Smith Island to offshore fishing and walking the Boardwalk in Ocean City in less than two hours of driving time.

There are very few places in the country, let alone the world, like Delmarva where we have easy and quick access to one of the most historically productive estuaries on the planet, the Chesapeake Bay, and miles of shoreline with the beautiful Atlantic Ocean.

Every drop of rain that falls on Delmarva is destined to end up in one of these large bodies of water, although ultimately even the Chesapeake Bay empties out into the Atlantic as well. So how do you know which body of water your rainwater will eventually join?

Here on Delmarva we have two major watersheds, the Chesapeake Bay and the Coastal Bays watersheds. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a watershed as “The area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place.” This place could be a small stream, a river, a pond, a lake, a bay or even a manmade stormwater pond or other water feature. As I mentioned earlier, our watersheds on Delmarva include both the Chesapeake bay and its tributaries and the Coastal bays and their tributaries.

The dividing line for these two watersheds is not easily distinguishable to the naked eye. Unlike in the western portions of Maryland where watersheds are generally separated by hills, mountains and other large geographic features, the watersheds here on Delmarva are separated by small differences in elevation and the distinctive hydrology of the region.

The line between these two watersheds is not marked by any major geographic landmark, so the easiest way to separate the two is to imagine that Route 113 is the dividing line and all the land to the east is in the coastal bays watershed and most of the land to the west is in the Chesapeake bay watershed. This is unfortunately not the best method because there are some areas directly to the west of Route 113 that belong in the coastal bays watershed but for the most part this is the easiest way to distinguish between the two watersheds.

But why should we care which watershed we live in?

The answer is simple; everything we do as individuals and communities within a watershed affects the body of water that our area drains into. Our waterways are a communally shared resource for everyone to use and enjoy, not just locals and landowners but also visitors as well. The health and well-being of our waterways not only reflects on us as individuals but also the community at large.

If our rivers, streams, and bays are choked with algae, litter and debris then it reflects negatively back on those who live and play in our watersheds. Diseases from contaminated seafood, marine life die-offs and population decreases, water-borne diseases and many other problems can arise from unhealthy waterways, which are an indicator of problems occurring in the watershed.

There are a plethora of things that can negatively effect our waterways that we do everyday without even noticing. Littering and not disposing of trash properly or recycling, not properly disposing of pet waste, using certain pesticides and chemicals on our lawns and gardens and many other factors can all contribute to problems in our waterways.

However it is not just individuals who contribute to the decline of our waterways though, businesses and corporations that work in our watersheds can also contribute to the pollution of our waterways, which is why everyone who lives, works and plays in a watershed should be accountable for their actions and the impacts they have. From the youngest child to the richest CEO, everybody should be educated about their impacts on not only their watershed but their local ecosystem as well because the more you know about your local watershed and waterways, the more you will want to help and keep them clean.

Sometimes just knowing what watershed you live in just is not enough. For instance, the Chesapeake Bay watershed not only encompasses most of Maryland but also parts of Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and even New York.

Getting people who live in Binghamton, N.Y., to pick up their dog poop on their neighbors’ yard because of what it will do to the Chesapeake Bay, a body of water roughly 300 miles away, can be extremely challenging. However it needs to be done because of the effect it will have on the people downstream. With such a large population, due in part to the large cities in the watershed, the action of a single person or business in just one of these state could have an effect on hundreds, if not thousands of people.

Through education and exploration of our watersheds we can help keep our waterways clear and our watersheds healthy and happy.
 

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