Getting to Know Your Watershed
by Sadie Beaton
“Even the upper end of the river believes in the ocean.”
Illustration by Sydney Smith
Water, water everywhere. Covering 70 percent of the earth’s surface and making up 60 percent of our bodies, water is the essence of life. Fresh, clean water is vital for the heath of our ecosystems and human communities. It is also central to the sustainable prosperity of our province and our daily quality of life.
Nova Scotia is well-endowed with water. Frequent rainfall helps keep our over 100 rivers, 10,000 lakes, and 35,000 wetlands drenched. This water eventually drains into the sea at any number of places along our extensive coastline.
However, despite this apparent abundance, our province is not without its water-related challenges. Acid rain, the loss and alteration of wetland habitats, sedimentation and contamination all threaten our water supplies. To protect this vital resource into the future, it is essential for to get to know our local watersheds.
Whether or not you’ve noticed, we all live, work and play in an ecological neighbourhood known as a watershed. A watershed is defined by the area of land where rainfall and snow melt drain to a larger water body, usually the sea. It includes drainage channels through rivers, streams and groundwater, natural filters in wetlands and estuaries, and sinks in lakes and oceans. Each molecule of water on earth travels through this cycle – falling as rain, flowing through streams, and evaporating from the ocean- about once every two million years.
Watersheds are intricate systems. Just as arteries transport oxygen to the cells in our bodies, rivers, streams and groundwater transport minerals, nutrients, sediments and living creatures throughout the entire ecosystem. All living things in your neighbourhood- including everything from otters, ducks, and salmon, to mosquitoes and cattails- depend on the quality and quantity of this water.
When any part of a watershed is exposed to pollution, it not only threatens the exposed area, but may also affect the entire watershed. These same drainage channels can also carry pollutants such as oil, paint, pet waste, fertilizers, pesticides and debris, dumped directly into watersheds or washed by rain into gutters and storm drains. In the end, contaminated water accumulates toxins, destroying habitat and hurting or even killing living organisms.
By mapping where run-off forms into streams and then merge into rivers, we can begin to define watershed boundaries. The government of Canada has a website that can help you to find out which watershed you live in here: http://map.ns.ec.gc.ca/kyw/. Why not take a walk along a local stream, river, or wetland, and get to know your “neighbourhood” a little better?
Knowing the borders of our local watershed can help us understand where the streams and rivers flowing through our neighborhoods have been, and where they are heading. It can also help us to understand what’s in the water used by every single living creature within your watershed. Using water wisely, avoiding toxic cleaning products and pesticides, and ensuring septic systems are properly maintained are all ways to care for your ecological neighbourhood every day. You can also become more involved and join a local watershed group, collections of citizens who work hard to ensure that our precious watersheds are managed and protected for future generations.
Phone: (902) 442-5046
Fax: (902) 405-3716
How do you like your coast? Take action on coastal issues that matter to you. The Coastal Issues Committee meets at the EAC on the last Thursday of every month at 5:30PM.