A watershed is an area of land that drains to a lake, river, wetland,
or other waterway. When precipitation occurs, water travels over forest, agricultural,
or urban/suburban land areas before entering a waterway. Water can also
travel into underground aquifers on its way to larger bodies of water. Together,
land and water make up a watershed system.
Watersheds can be any size, but generally, the larger the body of water
the larger the watershed. For example, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed covers
64,000 square miles and drains from six states, including Virginia.
Smaller, local watersheds drain much smaller areas.
Even a local stream has a watershed associated with it, perhaps only a few acres in size.
No matter where you live in Virginia you are part of one the state’s
nine major watersheds. You may have even noticed signs identifying the boundaries of
each watershed while traveling through the state.
Virginia’s watersheds ultimately drain into three main bodies of water. Nearly two-thirds
of Virginia drains into the Chesapeake Bay. Southeastern and south-central
Virginia drain into the Albemarle Sound in North Carolina. Rivers in Southwest Virginia
flow to the Mississippi River and on to the Gulf of Mexico.
One thing all watersheds have in common is people, and where you have people,
you have land-disturbance. When people alter land – to farm, to build, to landscape,
for transportation, etc. – they must ensure that
changes don’t cause runoff pollution for other people or plants and animals downstream that
depend on clean, usable water.
The technical term for this type of pollution is nonpoint source pollution.
There are many ways all of us can prevent such pollution to keep Virginia’s creeks,
rivers and bays clean and productive. The programs offered by Henricopolis Soil & Water
Conservation District are intended to help address the problem of nonpoint source pollution.