Water flows over the hill | News, Sports, Jobs

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This map shows the percentage of forest/wet cover in the communities that are part of the Chautauqua Lake watershed.

I live on top of a hill, and the other night I went for a run just down the block and back. When I turned the corner to get home I found myself thinking about all the different ways to get back and how they all ended in a tough climb. It’s because I live near the lake. As I trudged up the hill, I had a random thought – “Is water smarter than me? I think it must be, because it never goes uphill.

It may sound like a silly story (because it is), but it’s a true story and it carries an important takeaway. Water moves down. And for many of us, there’s a significant body of water that sits at the bottom of that hill, and that’s Chautauqua Lake. Whether you know it by that term or not, this concept – water that descends until it reaches a body of water at the bottom – is a watershed. We all live in a watershed, no matter where you live on the planet. And if you care how much water you have at the bottom, then what we do in the watershed matters because the water flows downstream.

Obviously, this is not a very complicated phenomenon, but it is one that is easy to forget because it takes place over such a large area. Besides being easy to forget, it is also often overlooked because watershed protection is what we would all consider “preventive care”. This is not a quick fix where you are going to see results overnight. Think of a fitness routine. You have to commit for the long term to see an impact, and if at some point you stop, the benefits will disappear. Watershed protection works the same way.

When the watershed is covered with trees, wetlands and other native plants, the water coming down is slowed down and has a chance to be absorbed. This recharges our groundwater, which feeds our streams, and eventually makes its way to the lake. When the watershed is covered with pavement, roofs, or believe it or even mowed grass, the water continues to move across the surface and goes straight into our streams or the lake without ever being cleaned up. How plants and the sand and soil that naturally hold them filter and clean water could be an article on its own, but we’ll save that for another day. The fact is that development directly affects water quality.

This is not new information. The impacts of watershed development (buildings) on water quality have been studied for more than two decades. Time and time again, the results show that when we build and develop land, the quality of our water suffers. So what’s right? We must build to survive and grow. I really liked how Booth, Hartley and Jackson put it in their article in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association: “Almost every increment of land cleared and roadways constructed will likely result in some degree of resource degradation or loss. The decision of what is ‘acceptable’ is therefore as much a social decision as a hydrological decision.”

Person jogging on a side road by Lake Chautauqua. Photo submitted

Therefore the “What” depends on us. We all have to decide how much we care about our waterways and the ability to drink from them, play in them, navigate them and enjoy the beauty they bring to our lives. Or if you’re not personally drawn to water, at least consider the impact its health has on our local economy. The same savvy researchers I quoted above gave us a goal – 70%. When the area of ​​a forested or wetland-covered watershed falls below 70%, you begin to see a significant impact on water quality.

The good news is that we are really close. For the Chautauqua Lake watershed, the average forest/wetland cover is approximately 64.9%. If we work together to find the best places to protect or reforest and are really strategic about where and how we grow, we can always get back to that magic 70% number. The question is whether we will come together and make a social decision that our water is important to us or not. I hope you will join me in a resounding yes. …now let’s work together to make it happen.

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of lakes, streams, wetlands, and watersheds in the Chautauqua region. For more information, visit chautauquawatershed.org and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.


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