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.
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.
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.