Issue 9 | November 2023 | Dear Shark | What is a Watershed?

Issue 9,November 2023,Dear Shark,Watershed,CoreShark H2O,environmental education

Dear Shark,

What is a WATERSHED? I’ve seen signs along the highway indicating when I’m leaving or entering the Chesapeake Bay watershed, but I don’t understand why I see them if I’m in New York or West Virginia. How would being in one of those states have anything to do with the Chesapeake Bay?

Sincerely, Watershed Wanderer

Answer provided by: Jen Aiken, CSH2O Environmental Educator

Dear Watershed Wanderer,

You’re not the first, nor will you be the last to be confused by the term watershed. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word watershed? A shed filled with water? A shed near the water? If you’ve lived in this area long enough, you’ve probably grown accustomed to hearing about the Chesapeake Bay watershed. But, do you REALLY know what it means? Issue 9,November 2023,Dear Shark,Watershed,CoreShark H2O,environmental educationNo matter where you live in the world, you live in a watershed. A watershed is defined as an area of land that drains rainfall and snowmelt into streams and rivers. From there, that water combines with other watersheds to form a network of rivers and streams that progressively drain into larger bodies of water.

You may be wondering what determines where and how water flows. Let’s thinkIssue 9,November 2023,Dear Shark,Watershed,CoreShark H2O,environmental education about gravity and topography. Imagine standing in your shower. Now picture all the areas the water is hitting, such as the walls, the tub edges, your body and the bathtub floor. Where does all of that water end up? The drain!  Water drains or “sheds” off of land into smaller bodies of water then into larger bodies of water, like the Chesapeake Bay.

Issue 9,November 2023,Dear Shark,Watershed,CoreShark H2O,environmental educationThe Bay is essentially a “drain” for 64,000 square miles of land, which is home to over 18 million people and 3,600 species of plants and animals. According to the Chesapeake Bay Program, “the land-to-water ratio of the Chesapeake Bay is 14:1—the largest of any coastal water body in the world. This is why our actions on land have such a big impact on the Bay’s health.”

A lot of people tend to think the Bay’s poor health is due to waterfront cities, businesses or property owners. Or that it’s just Marylanders or Virginians who are to blame for the deterioration in the Bay’s water quality. However, 444 miles north of the top of the Bay in Cooperstown, New York, is Otsego Lake, which is the headwaters of the Susquehanna River. So, Cooperstown is not only famous for being home to the Baseball Issue 9,November 2023,Dear Shark,Watershed,CoreShark H2O,environmental educationHall of Fame (how ‘bout those O’s this season?) but also for boasting where the Susquehanna begins. It then flows through New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland before entering into the Bay, making it the longest river on the East Coast! There are 150 major rivers and streams that meander through rural, suburban and urban areas that include six states and the District of Columbia. Can you name those six states? New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, and Delaware.

Issue 9,November 2023,Dear Shark,Watershed,CoreShark H2O,environmental educationThe impact from such a vast area of land draining into a large body of water such as the Chesapeake Bay is quite extensive. According to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, “the three biggest contributors to the poor health of streams, rivers and the Bay are nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment. These enter the waterways from wastewater, septic tank discharge, runoff from farms, cities, and suburbs as well as air pollution.”

You may be thinking “Well, what I do in the watershed doesn’t have an impact on the Bay,” but the reality is WE ALL HAVE AN IMPACT! Refer to our March 2022 Shark Bites issue about nutrient runoff and ways that you can help. Being a mindful consumer, homeowner, commuter, and citizen can make a difference too. Chances are you are 1 of the 18 million people living within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. To continue to enjoy all that our area offers, we can all make small changes to protect and preserve our wonderful watershed, waterways and the Bay.

Issue 9,November 2023,Dear Shark,Watershed,CoreShark H2O,environmental education

If you’re an educator or parent that would like to bring our “Wonderful Watershed” program to your school, please visit our CSH2O programs page for more information.

Sincerely, Shark

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