WHAT’S A WATERSHED?

It’s a good question because unless you live in or near one, the expression doesn’t mean much except “Hey, there’s a lot of water around here!” Obviously that’s true, but there’s a bit more to it than that.

This is my valley

As you can see, it’s not just one river or lake. It’s a network. Although in theory every body of water is a watershed, the term generally refers to an area that is fed by a number of waterways.

Living in a watershed means that there’s water all around you. In the Blackstone Valley, in addition to all the rivers and lakes you can see on the map, there are many more small streams, rivulets, and little ponds that aren’t shown on a map. In a good rain year, you can’t go far without finding water.

Water collected in the Blackstone Valley watershed is distributed in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Although we’ve never run dry, we’ve had long periods of drought lasting years. Unlike the huge drought in the western part of the U.S., we always get some rain. Not necessarily enough.

Our rivers and ponds have gone dry, all the way down to mud and gravel. The birds fly to places where there’s more water and food. Fish and turtles die if they can’t find deeper water. We just passed through a decade during which we got much less rain than we need. Finally, in 2021, we had dropped a solid foot below normal water levels. Many of us country folk don’t get “city water.” We have wells. When water levels drop, we worry. If your well dries up and you have no water, it isn’t covered by your insurance, either. If you have no water, you have no home.

In the spring of 2021, it rained. A lot. March and April were very wet. May has been rather dry, but we’ve had at least some rain. The normally very dry months are June through early August. We are waiting to see if we get rain through the summer months. Especially since we have not been getting a lot of snow in the winter, so there’s no “runoff” from melting. We have to count entirely on rainfall.

In areas where water is centralized or what we like to call “city water,” you can be in the middle of drought and barely notice it. After all, water keeps coming out of your tap. I’ve had any number of people who live out west tell me that if there’s a drought, they haven’t noticed it.

Not noticing a major drought affecting probably a third of the country is nothing to brag about. It means you aren’t paying any attention to the natural world in which you live and which gives you sustenance. You are assuming you can keep moving blithely on and let “other people” worry about things like making sure you have water to drink, bathe, irrigate.

Trusting that “other people” will figure out a solution to a problem as huge as the lack of water affecting so many people in so many states is massively naïve. I haven’t noticed Congress passing emergency measures to deal with any ecological issue. In point of fact, I haven’t noticed Congress so much as admitting there is a problem. Which I think is our really our biggest problem and the most frightening.

Two views of the dam at Manchaug when it rains and when it’s dry.

Many places around the world are suffering from drought and/or pollution. These are not “natural” problems. Human made these problems and unless humans fix them, the world as we know it will disappear along with the animals we love. Earth will rebound, but we won’t.

Water and air are the two most basic resources. No breathable air? We’re dead. No drinkable water? No life. Of the many potential ecological issues facing us, none is more critical than water. Just because water flows from your tap doesn’t mean there’s no problem. It just means it hasn’t affected you.

Yet.



Categories: Anecdote, Blackstone River, Blackstone Valley, climate, climate change, Dams and Waterfalls, Ecology, Photography, Water

Tags: , , , , , , ,

7 replies

  1. It’s certainly beautiful there. Exquisite in fact. We although part of a rain forest, suffer dry spells during which no fires are permitted and watering plants and gardens is forbidden. Strange how that works. This year, we may not have that issue unless it suddenly becomes much hotter. We’re still in the 11 d c region which is exceedingly late. Last year in April my family was swimming in the lake. This year, not yet! I suppose it’s good for the province and hopefully means less destructive forest fires.

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  2. Grateful to live in a region where water is pure and plentiful.

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  3. You make very good points about water supply. Those of us living in cities or elsewhere with mains water (in the UK that is nearly everyone, even rural communities) are cushioned from the worst impacts of drought although we do sometimes face hosepipe bans here. We need to become more aware of wider-reaching consequences.

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    • The problem is everyone thinks as long as the tap flows, there’s no problem. OR if they have a well — which they refer to as “our water,” they fail to understand that they are pulling water from the same aquifer as everyone else. It ISN’T your water. It’s everybody’s water, probably including the “city’s water” which fills ITS wells or reservoirs from the same aquifer.

      Our western states are fed by the Colorado Plateaus aquifer which is approximately 110,000 square miles including western Colorado, northwestern New Mexico, northeastern Arizona, and eastern Utah. This is a very large aquifer but it is limited in volume since it is in an arid region. In the past it was enough for the area’s small population, The huge population buildup put a massive strain on water in these states. California (and Oregon) have their own watersheds, most of them north of Sacramento. 75% of California’s water comes from the north, but 80% of the DEMAND for water comes from the south. Again, over-population and limited rainfall are the key.

      No one “owns” water, If you have a big lake on your property, that water comes from elsewhere and then should normally move on. If you dam it, lock it down or pollute it? Well, you can figure out what’s going to happen next because without water, there’s no life.

      Too many cities, industrial areas, and farms still use chemicals that are poisonous in an arid region It ultimately seeps into the aquifer. A polluted aquifer is DEAD. Forever. Permanently. We aren’t taking care of our water. Unless we deal with it, it will deal with us… and we won’t like it.

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  4. You are living in such a wonderful area. xx Michael

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    • We are lucky. New England has not leveled all it’s woods and we have more rain than most of the country. We also have a 70% coverage of trees, so as long as we get rain, we are fine. So far, so good.

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