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Bow Watch: Why We Should Understand Watersheds

Carl Richards - headshot

It's easy to downplay the interactions between the land we live, play, and work upon and the lake and stream you drive by every day. Not that the average person doesn't care about the quality of their favorite waterbody, it's just that the connections between land and water are so dynamic and complex that understanding them is difficult. So why try? Because the things we do to alter the land's surface, such as changing the existing cover (e.g., forest or grassland) to another kind of cover (e.g., suburb or urban), may alter important characteristics of local waters.

For example, changes to shorelines, such as clearing the vegetation or digging to modify the shape of the shoreline, can cause problems such as loss of habitat for animals and bank erosion. This can lead to increased water runoff and sedimentation, poor water quality, and shifts in the hydrology of the stream or lake. The effects can be subtle or pronounced, depending upon the kind and amount of development.

The good news is that many of these impacts can be minimized or eliminated through effective planning and education. Both of the front-page feature stories in this Seiche address watershed issues and offer information to enhance our understanding of land-water interactions.

The lawn care practices survey we recently completed shows that most people couldn't remember how much fertilizer they applied to their lawns or exactly what nutrients were in the fertilizer. To be sure you're not adding too much fertilizer to your lawn, contact your local county extension office for a soil test. It's cheap, easy, and doesn't take much time. You'll find out exactly what nutrients your lawn needs. Giving your lawn what it needs ensures that the fertilizer is absorbed instead of running off into your local water body and impacting water quality.

The Duluth Streams Web site will soon help people see how different types of development along several of Duluth's 42 streams impacts the flow of water in the streams, water temperature, salt content, and even color (turbidity). You'll be able to see how land covered by large areas of concrete allows water to run off directly into streams instead of percolating into the soil and dramatically increases the flow of streams when it rains. Observing real-time, scientific data leaves no doubt that such impacts occur.

Minnesota Sea Grant is working to incorporate science-based information about watersheds into community planning. To assist community leaders and interested people in tackling difficult choices between development and water quality and to offer a variety of smart solutions, we are hiring a person to work solely on watershed issues and education. Our first-ever NEMO coordinator (Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials) will be announced in the next issue of the Seiche.

We are committed to understanding the connections between watersheds, lakes, and rivers, and to helping you understand them so that we can all do our part to minimize harmful environmental impacts.

Carl Richards' signature
Carl Richards
Minnesota Sea Grant Director

By Carl Richards
June 2002

Return to June 2002 Seiche

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